Photographer: Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images
NHL’s Islanders Win Right to Build Arena at Belmont SiteBy
Islanders’ proposal for 18,000-seat arena picked over NYCFC
Hockey team currently plays at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center
The New York Islanders have been awarded the right to build a new arena at the site of Belmont Park, according to people familiar with the matter, bringing the hockey team closer to its traditional Long Island fan base after an unsuccessful stint in Brooklyn.
The Islanders’ proposal, which beat out a submission from Major League Soccer’s New York City Football Club, is for an 18,000-seat arena that would house 150 events a year. The plans also include 435,000 square feet of retail space along with a hotel, the people said, asking not to be identified as the information isn’t public.
The deal could be announced as soon as Wednesday, one of the people said.
“Governor Cuomo, my colleagues in government and I have worked very hard to make the best use out of Belmont,” New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky said in a statement. “I believe that tomorrow’s announcement will benefit Long Island and the surrounding communities.”
State officials in July asked for proposals to develop the site, saying part of their aim was to transform Belmont Park into a entertainment, sports, hospitality and retail complex. A spokeswoman for Empire State Development, the state agency that controls the site, declined to comment. Islanders owner Jonathan Ledecky didn’t immediately return a text message seeking comment.
The Islanders have been seeking an alternative to the Barclays Center, which became the team’s home in the 2015-16 season. The Islanders have the league’s worst attendance, averaging about 11,642 a game this season. That’s about 4,000 less than the team’s final season at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
Joining the Islanders in the proposal is Oak View Group, whose investors include James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Co., which owns its namesake arena as well as the Knicks and Rangers, and Sterling Equities, which owns baseball’s New York Mets.
The Belmont site in Elmont is controlled by the New York Racing Authority and sits about 19 miles east of Manhattan, just outside of Queens. It’s accessible by car and by regional rail, and would bring the Islanders closer to their historical Nassau County fan base.
One big question remains: Where the Islanders will play while the new arena is being constructed.
Mikhail Prokhorov’s Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum, has notified the Islanders that the window to renegotiate lease terms at the Brooklyn arena is open. The parties have until Jan. 1 to reach agreement on new terms. If they can’t, they can either continue with the current contract terms or either side would have until Jan. 30 of 2018 to sever ties.
Barclays Center officials months proposed months ago that the Islanders use Nassau Coliseum as a temporary venue until the new arena is ready, according to a person with knowledge of the talks.
Settling the arena issue once and for all may go a long way toward helping the Islanders keep their captain, John Tavares, who is an unrestricted free agent after the season. Tavares, 27, leads the team with 40 points and is second in goals with 19.
Value Retail Plc founder Scott Malkin and Ledecky paid $485 million for the Islanders in 2014 but didn’t take control of the franchise until 2016. The purchase price -- much more than the $325 million value of the team estimated by Forbes -- was based in part on the team having a home in New York City.
Former Islanders owner Charles Wang moved the team to the Barclays Center after failing to get taxpayer funds for a new arena on the site of the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, the team’s home since 1972. Wang said the team was losing tens of millions of dollars annually at the coliseum.
As part of the Barclays Center lease, the Islanders made the unusual move of agreeing to surrender control of the team’s business operations. In exchange, Barclays Center agreed to pay the team an average of $53.5 million a year.
The Islanders are 18-12 this season, tied with the Rangers for fourth in the Metropolitan division. They’re 10-2-2 at Barclays this season.