Islanders Win Bid To Build Arena At Belmont Park

The New York Islanders, playing second fiddle at Barclays Center over the past three years, have taken the first step toward building their own arena at Belmont Park.  

Islanders Barclays
Photo by Bruce Bennett / Getty Images
– Islanders Barclays
The New York Islanders salute fans following a 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators at the Barclays Center on April 9.

This morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, representing the Empire State Development Corp., the entity overseeing the horse track’s redevelopment, announced a team formed by the Islanders, Oak View Group and Sterling Properties has been selected to construct a new arena in Elmont, N.Y. in Nassau County.

Oak View Group is the parent company of Pollstar and Venues Today. Sterling Properties is a real estate firm owned by the Wilpon family, owner of the New York Mets. The Wilpons have eyed Belmont as a site to build a new Islanders arena since 2010. 

The NHL arena is tied to a mixed-use project to include a 200-room hotel, plus 400,000 square feet of dining and retail space. It is expected to host 41 Islander home games per year as well as more than 100 other events including concerts.  

Islanders co-owner Scott Malkin is handling the mixed-use piece through Value Retail, his real estate firm, said Peter Luukko, a principal with Oak View Group working on the project.

The Islanders’ project won out over the New York Yankees’ proposal to build an MLS stadium at Belmont Park for its New York City Football Club.

The site for the arena, to be designed by Populous, sits behind the west end of the grandstand at the 112-year-old track and next to a rail station served by the Long Island Rail Road. It is currently being used as a parking lot and open space. Belmont Park, which plays host to the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, will not be affected by the development and will continue its operations, Luukko said. 

NY Islanders Arena Rendering
– NY Islanders Arena Rendering

Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky was not available for comment, but Luukko said the team’s goal is to open the arena by the 2021-22 season.

It could potentially open sooner pending expedition of the development process, he said. Luukko is Oak View Group’s day-to-day contact with the project. He’s involved with managing the Islanders’ relationship with Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, parent company of Barclays Center,and is also helping the team map its exit strategy from their current home.

For the new arena, officials have not disclosed the cost of the privately financed facility, pending agreements with the state of New York to help fund infrastructure improvements and other expenses connected to the development. Populous has been working on the arena design for over a year but, to date, no details have been released on specifications beyond the rough estimate of 18,000 seats.

Consultant Dan Barrett has done some initial work for the Islanders on researching premium seat products, Luukko said.

Oak View Group expects to play a major role in the arena development, which could include managing the facility and marketing the building as well as the sale of naming rights and founding partners, but those agreements have not been signed, he said. For the Islanders, the arena project signals an end to their long journey to replace Nassau Coliseum, the team’s home for 43 years before moving to Barclays Center in 2015.

The effort to build a new arena dates back to 11 years ago with the failed Lighthouse development, a plan to rebuild the coliseum and add mixed use under former Islanders owner Charles Wang. In the midst of the recession, the multibillion-dollar plan never got off the ground due to a lack of financing and public support. After several unsuccessful attempts to build a new arena or renovate the coliseum, the Islanders relocated to Barclays Center three years ago, the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. But it was never a good fit.

The Islanders play in an NBA-specific building with a few thousand obstructed-view seats, and there have been issues with the quality of ice and game presentation. Those concerns have largely been resolved by arena management, but it hasn’t resulted in more fans filling seats.

This season, the Isles are last in NHL attendance, drawing about 11,500 a game in an arena that seats 15,800 for hockey. For Islanders fans, the Belmont Park site cuts about ten miles for the commute for those coming from Long Island compared with traveling to Brooklyn.  

NY Islanders Arena Rendering
– NY Islanders Arena Rendering

“The Islanders are coming back [close] to home, back to the island,” Luukko said. “It’s easily accessible from Manhattan. The site itself is outstanding; it’s over 400 acres [including the track], which should provide easy access for shows.”

The Belmont Park site is also closer for residents of Westchester County and the southwest tip of Connecticut, where a significant portion of Islanders fans live, he said.

All told, when the Islanders arena is completed, the New York metro region will have five arenas, including Madison Square Garden, Prudential Center in Newark and Nassau Coliseum, which re-opened in April following a $260 million renovation of the building and upgrades surrounding the venue.

Don Muret is the Senior Editor at VenuesNow, Pollstar’s sister publication launching Q1 2018.