The stakes at Belmont couldn’t be higher.
This time, it’s not a horse race, or even a Triple Crown. But the effort to develop Belmont Park and its surrounding land into a year-round sports and entertainment destination could transform the surrounding communities and the region. We have to get it right.
The long-awaited decision on who will develop the state land that sits at the border of Long Island and NYC is coming soon. Both proposals under consideration offer sports facilities; community space such as parks or a job training center; retail and restaurants. The joint proposal from the New York Islanders, Sterling Project Development, the real estate arm of the New York Mets’ Wilpon family, and the Oak View Group, an arena developer funded in part by Madison Square Garden, includes a 250-room hotel. The submission from New York City FC, a soccer team partially owned by the New York Yankees, and Related Companies, a NYC real estate developer, adds a 2-acre soccer center.
Add in the possibility of combining all downstate racing at Belmont, like the thoroughbred action at Aqueduct and perhaps even harness racing from Yonkers, and the opportunity grows. It’s a chance to add economic vitality to what’s now asphalt, and to boost that entire Queens-Nassau border area with a new Long Island Rail Road station that can become a public transit hub.
That is key. While the property borders on the Cross Island Parkway, the adjacent local roads can only handle so much traffic. The hope is fans and others will take the train to the game, race, shops, parks and restaurants.
The idea of a full-time station is on the state’s radar screen, and the MTA is willing to try. But it won’t be simple. Belmont’s little-used LIRR station is on a spur off the Main Line between Queens Village and Bellerose, and it’ll be complicated to manage train traffic and figure out how to move trains from the spur onto the Main Line tracks, particularly westbound. The station likely needs work, too.
Development at Belmont can provide an economic boost on both sides of the NYC-Long Island line — but the ripple effects can stretch across the city, region and state.