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Belmont agreement bars relocation for 25 years

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The New York Islanders must stay at Belmont Park for 25 years under an agreement between the team and Empire State Development, the state agency that owns the land at Belmont Park.

“The Islanders have been part of Long Island’s DNA since 1972, and this agreement ensures they will continue to play on the Island for decades to come,” Jack Sterne, a spokesman for Empire State Development, said in an emailed statement. “We are proud that New York state’s successful partnership with the team helped guarantee a longtime home for Isles fans — whose permanent location was on ice for far too long — while supporting a project that will create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic activity.”

The contract was signed in late December by Islanders General Counsel Jay Itkowitz and ESD General Counsel Elizabeth Fine. It states that if the team leaves before its 25-year term is up, it must pay a penalty that would vary depending on how many years it had stayed — from $86.25 million in Year 1 to $5 million in Year 24. 

Such contracts are common among sports arena agreements, according to Neil DeMause, co-author of “Field of Schemes,” which chronicles the arena deals made over the years. But, he said, a 25-year non-relocation agreement is unusually short. The minimum for most is at least 30 years.

“It’s pretty unusual for a team to think of moving before 20 years,” DeMause told the Herald, noting that the Islanders could easily get another city’s officials to pay the penalty if they wanted to entice the team to relocate.

The Islanders signed a license agreement with the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2015. It included an opt-out clause, according to Moody’s Investment Service, under which the Islanders and Barclays had until Jan. 1, 2018, to renegotiate the terms of the deal. If no new deal was reached, the two parties could either keep the original deal or reject it, and if both sides delivered an opt-out notice by the end of January 2018, the agreement stated that the team would be able to leave at the end of its third or fourth season.

By 2017, however, the Islanders were one of two finalists for a contract to redevelop Belmont Park. The team’s plans included an 18,000-seat arena, retail space and a hotel. It was awarded the contract from Empire State Development that December. The deal included a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, which would reduce the amount of property taxes that the hockey franchise would have to pay throughout the ESD’s lease of the land.

The Islanders said at the time that attendance was low at Barclays, and fans complained about the long commute to Brooklyn, as well as an obstructed view of the rink. Now, DeMause said, he fears that the Islanders may once again ask for another new arena after 15 to 20 years, calling the agreement “a nice [public relations] gesture to say they wouldn’t move for 20 years.”

The contract also states, however, that the team could leave the park before 25 years if the ESD agrees to its departure, or if the new Long Island Rail Road station were not operational by 2024. 

The station was included in the Belmont Park redevelopment project’s final environmental impact statement. It will include two 12-car platforms, a pedestrian overpass, lighting, elevators, and an audio and visual announcement system. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded a contract for the work to Queens-based Judlau Contracting at the end of January, and officials expect Elmont’s eastbound platform to be open in time for the Islanders’ 2021-22 season, with the westbound platform completed one year later.