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Elmont Road Park falling apart for years

Residents see hope for change with new Belmont Arena

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At least a decade has passed since any work has been done on Elmont Road Park, and residents have been left with a weed-filled plot of land with worn-out facilities. Jon Johnson, president of the Elmont Cardinals Sports Club, used to have his teams play there, but given the park’s current condition, they now use local school fields, which are full of students playing their own games.

Elmont Road Park was once the heart of the community, Johnson said, but for years Town of Hempstead officials have ignored it, despite the urgent appeals of residents.

“This has been 15 years of recklessness out there,” Johnson said. “The previous administration didn’t care because, if they did, they wouldn’t have let it get to how it is now.”

All of that might now change.

As part of their agreement with local community leaders over the proposed Belmont Arena project, Empire State Development and New York Arena Partners plan to refurbish and redevelop Elmont Road Park, with new community and innovation centers at Belmont.

Sachelle Ricketts, a longtime Elmont resident, said that a new park is desperately needed in Elmont because now the only community space in the area is Elmont Memorial Library. But Rickets and other parents said the library cannot house all of the facilities that their children need, and places like Elmont Road Park or Dutch Broadway Park are blighted and routinely flood, making hosting any significant events at them difficult to impossible.

“I tried taking my daughters to Hendrickson Park [in Valley Stream], but they asked us to leave because we didn’t have Valley Stream IDs,” Ricketts said. “We don’t want to go somewhere else just to play in a park.”

Her daughters do enjoy Elmont Road Park, where they often play after cheerleading practices, Ricketts said, but the decrepit state of the park is a constant reminder of what Elmont used to be. In the early 2000s, Elmont Road Park had well-maintained baseball and football fields, a bike track and a new playground. Now the playground is missing swings and equipment, half of the bike track has been overtaken by weeds and grass, and the football field has been torn apart by years of use. The baseball field is gone.

Johnson added that the basketball court, at which an annual tournament was held, has become too dangerous to use because of the exposed railing surrounding the court’s cage, and a light pole that was erroneously installed inside the court rather than outside. Although the Town of Hempstead finally added funds to fix the park in its budget this year, as part of a promise Supervisor Laura Gillen made to Elmont after she was elected, residents said the $500,000 that was set aside for it was too little and would lead to another “patch job.”

“When ESD met with town officials and talked about their ideas for a community park at Belmont, we told them we already had a park that could use development,” Johnson said. “So they agreed to finance and bring real change to our park.”

Simmonie Gordon, a member of the Elmont mothers group Muscle Moms, described the deal with the arena developers as a chance for substantial improvement in Elmont. She said a new park would encourage local children and parents to spend time outside, and community groups, older adults and schoolchildren could do a great deal with the community and innovation centers at Belmont. She said she also saw the proposed retail village as a way not only to bring out-of-towners to shop in Elmont, but also to keep local people from spending their money elsewhere.

Residents said they also believe that development of Belmont could help curb the number of young adults leaving Elmont, as it could help build civic pride in their hometown and offer them employment opportunities. ESD officials have said that about 3,000 permanent jobs will be available at Belmont and that the developers are being encouraged to hire local residents. The jobs might be low-paying service work, and not be the type of tech jobs that arena opponents would like, but Johnson said they would be perfect for teens and young adults looking to make money and move up in their professional lives.

“These jobs are stepping stones for bigger and better things, and with minimum-wage going up in New York, this would be perfect for our kids to earn some income,” Johnson said.

Johnson and other local residents have become increasingly vocal in their support for the Belmont Arena project after Floral Park residents recently became more vocal in their opposition to it during village meetings. While Gordon understands that the arena would also affect Floral Park, she and Johnson said it would be unfair for residents there to reject a project that would bring several benefits to Elmont.

“Yes, there’s going to be more traffic, but we’re willing to take that in exchange for what Elmont can gain,” Gordon said. “How long do I have to drive down Hempstead Turnpike and see a parking lot?”

She added that Elmont residents plan to hold the arena developers accountable to their agreement to redevelop Elmont Road Park, saying that the Islanders would be unable to play at Belmont until the park is finished.

At press time, the arena developers held multiple meetings with local residents at the Elmont Memorial Library. Gillen and several local union officials also presented their case on Jan. 7, calling on the arena developers to hire locally during the construction and opening of the new Belmont Park. The public comment period for the arena project will end in February. Construction is set to begin this spring.