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‘More for our parks’

Residents ask for ‘real benefits’ from Belmont Arena

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As New York Arena Partners and Empire State Development prepare to publish the Belmont Arena project’s state environmental impact statement in June, a key issue that residents have said they want addressed is how the project might benefit local neighborhoods.

While developers have said the project will inject significant economic activity into Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead, Elmont has been promised a full revitalization of Elmont Road Park, which has fallen into disrepair.

As developers, local officials and residents spent months discussing what should be done at the park, the Hempstead Town Council voted recently to give New York Arena Partners access to the park for its study, as well as approved the inclusion of Hendrickson Avenue Park in the project’s revitalization plans.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said, however, that she was unsure why such a small park should be considered for upgrades or why Town Council members would settle for $1.5 million in improvements between the two parks, when Elmont Road Park alone may require millions in renovations.

“The town put forth that number, and it’s unacceptable,” Gillen said. “I worked to add ‘a minimum of $1.5 million’ in our language, but I don’t think anyone should have anything less in mind than a multi-million-dollar investment for Elmont.”

Gillen added that Councilman Bruce Blakemam had introduced the inclusion of Hendrickson Avenue Park to the Belmont Arena project deal. Blakeman and arena developers did not reply to the Herald’s request for response to explain the agreement.

Elmont Cardinals Sports Club President Jon Johnson, who supports the arena project and revitalization of Elmont Road Park, was also confused why Hendrickson Avenue Park would be slated for upgrades. The park sits at Hendrickson Avenue and Hempstead Turnpike, housing a few basketball and handball courts and a small playground. Johnson said the park is seldom used, except for a few weekend basketball games.

Johnson and Gillen said they believe the arena developer should focus on Elmont Road Park, which has been ignored by the town for years.

Although Gillen’s administration set aside $500,000 for upgrades at Elmont Road Park in her 2018 budget plan, she and Johnson agreed that the sum was not enough to make significant changes to the dilapidated park. Johnson added that he believed a multi-million-dollar investment from the New York Arena Partners would be the best way to revitalize the park.

“The only way to fix these 20 years of neglect is to go through with the Belmont Arena project,” Johnson said.

Tammie Williams, of the Belmont Park Community Coalition, which opposes the arena project, agreed that although work at Elmont Road Park was long overdue, she did not believe that it was enough to justify the arena project.

Williams and the BPCC have worked for more than a year to oppose the project because they believe it would negatively affect local neighborhoods.

She saw the inclusion of Hendrickson Avenue Park as a way to “cheaply buy local support” for the project. Williams likened the move to “waving a golden carrot on a stick.”

Like Gillen, Williams said any investment in the community from New York Arena Partners should mimic what developers at the Nassau Hub have proposed in East Meadow, Westbury, Uniondale, Hempstead, Garden City and Carle Place — the communities that encircle Nassau Coliseum.

In its agreement with the county, Nassau Hub developers agreed to include $60 million to $75 million in benefits for the communities. Although Gillen said the town has no authority over the project, she urged New York state officials who represent Elmont, Floral Park and Franklin Square to pay attention to how the communities might benefit from the project.

State Sens. Todd Kaminsky and Anna Kaplan have said that they would only back the arena project if significant benefits come to the local area, including a full-time Long Island Rail Road Station at Belmont. State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages has repeatedly voiced her opposition to the project, citing failed community benefits from other arena projects throughout the U.S.

For lifelong Elmont resident like Mattson Kokura, who serves on the Belmont Community Advisory Committee, the arena project should benefit all communities surrounding Belmont Park. Kokura, who lives within walking distance of Elmont Road Park, as well as other residents, advised ESD to include the neighboring Dutch Broadway Park in the renovations. Although it has multiple fields, it is known locally as “Lake Elmont” because of regular flooding.

“We’re allowing them to come into our town and build the arena, so we should be able to get as much as we can,” Kokura said. “These renovations are for our future generations to enjoy here and not some other town. This will be our legacy for the kids.”