After months of public hearings and constant questions from Elmont and Floral Park residents, the Empire State Development Corporation released the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Belmont Park Arena project on July 8.
When complete, the Belmont Arena is to include a 19,000-seat arena, more than 7,000 parking spaces, a 250-room hotel, movie theater, community center, commercial office space and 350,000 square feet of retail space. The project also includes promises to renovate Elmont Road and Hendrickson Avenue parks, which have long suffered from a lack of maintenance.
The EIS also tries to address some of the public’s biggest concerns after a draft of the report was published in December. Empire State Development Vice President Tom Conoscenti explained that a majority of local residents’ worries revolved around the heavy traffic that the arena project would produce.
While previous estimates found that the project would add about 4,000 cars to local roads and parkways during peak hours on weekdays, the construction of a full-time Long Island Rail Road station at the border of Elmont and Bellerose Terrace would mitigate nearly half of that traffic. ESD’s Rachel Shatz said the new station would significantly reduce traffic on the Cross Island Parkway, which would have seen about 90 percent of the total traffic to the arena.
“Along with the new Elmont station, we’re providing carpooling incentives, traffic alerts through apps like WAZE [and Google Maps], and incentives for fans and visitors to come early and leave later,” Shatz said. “Our traffic plan will be constantly monitored and adjusted as it’s reviewed by local governments, first responders and traffic experts.”
Not everyone was sold, however, on the current plans for the new LIRR station. Tammie Williams, of the Belmont Park Community Coalition, and New York State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said they were disappointed that the station would be on the outskirts of Elmont, about a half-mile from Hempstead Turnpike. Local commuters looking to use the new Elmont station would have to ride a shuttle bus system to get to and from the arena, but the EIS did not specify whether shuttle busses would run outside of arena events.
Transportation historian Larry Penner expressed doubt over how the shuttle bus system would work and if the station could be completed in time for the Islanders’ 2021 season. He and Solages also noted that while the final impact statement has the south side of the station slated for completion by 2021 for eastbound service, westbound trains would not become available until the completion of the Third Track and East Side Access projects, neither of which is expected to be completed until 2023.
“The local commuters of Elmont and Floral Park need to be thought of first,” Solages said. “I’m disappointed that [the developers] chose this avenue.”
While the state originally said the developers would pay for 92 percent of the station construction, it was later revealed that New York would cover most of the costs, over $70 million, and then be reimbursed by the developers.
It was details like this that left local residents debating whether the arena project’s positives outweigh the negatives. Developers have touted nearly 10,000 temporary jobs and more than 3,000 permanent jobs at Belmont, but they have not yet said how many jobs would go to local unions and residents.
ESD officials and developers also estimate that the arena project would produce more than $850 million in revenue annually, starting in 2024, and provide more than $2 billion in one-time economic benefits. In their estimates, the Elmont and Sewanhaka Central High School Districts would receive $154 million in funds over 49 years through a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. Aubrey Philips, a local advocate in the Elmont community, criticized the PILOT deal and asked that project pay its fair share of taxes in the local community.
“We’ve seen what a poor PILOT agreement did over at Valley Stream,” Philips said of the PILOT deal negotiated with the Town of Hempstead Industrial Development Agency that led to a severe school budget shortfall and sharp increase in property taxes. “We don’t want that here and affecting our schools.”
Still, other residents said they are hopeful the project will bring economic prosperity to Elmont. Jon Johnson, of the Elmont Cardinals Sports Club, said the new LIRR station would benefit Elmont, and that the project would bring change to an area that has stood undeveloped for years.
“This project is just what Elmont needs,” Johnson said. “It feels like the opposition is just nitpicking rather than seeing the image as a whole.”