In December 2017, Islander fans were elated when their team’s bid to build a new state-of-the-art arena at Belmont Park was picked by New York State. Finally, the Islanders would have a proper place to call home for the next couple of decades; our issues would be over. However, there are a lot of glaring problems associated with the project that are yet to be addressed.
When the Islanders played at the Barclays Center, the organization had an unconventional agreement with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment. BSE would control all sales and marketing, and Charles Wang, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky would receive a flat rate of $53.5 million dollars per year. This agreement was great for the Islanders owners but, it did not work for BSE. The Barclays Center was losing money – and a lot of it – with the Islanders in Brooklyn. The fanbase was refusing to make the long trek on reverse rush hour trains to a building with poor sightlines, and an uncentered jumbotron. Due to these failures, and many others, Islander fans, including myself, refused to go to the Barclays Center. As the arena’s seats were sitting empty during games, BSE was losing more and more money, as the Islanders slipped to last in attendance in the NHL. It didn’t impact the Islanders owners pockets as the Barclays Center was paying them a flat rate each season. Eventually, Brooklyn had enough, and the Islanders were virtually evicted from their “home” arena.
With the new arena at Belmont, the Islanders owners had a chance to start with a clean slate. Alas, it’s been reported they have already entered in to a similar destined-to-fail arrangement for the team’s sales and marketing rights. The New York Arena Partners (Scott Malkin, the Wilpon family, and Oak View Group) are in charge of the construction of the new arena, but the Islanders have contractually passed the team’s sales and marketing rights off to the Oak View Group. Oak View Group owns the new Seattle expansion franchise coming to the NHL in 2021; could this unorthodox business arrangement cause a conflict of interest between the Islanders and their arena landlords? The Islanders will now be locked up into a lease similar to the one that got them evicted from Brooklyn – IN THE ARENA THEY BUILT! This awkward agreement could cause the Islanders to miss out on a lot of the money generated from Belmont Arena and takes marketing out of the hands of the Islanders organization. What would happen if Belmont Arena does not work out and the fans stop coming? Would the Islanders be evicted from their own building? Ledecky and Malkin are receiving guaranteed payments from Oak View, PLUS they will have their shiny new mall. What will the fans have?
A major issue of Belmont Arena is the parking situation. The current plan has the arena parking divided between three lots to make up around 6,000 spots, but around 400-500 places will be reserved for Elmont/Bellerose/Floral Park residents who will use the new train station as a commuter lot. Let’s say that there are only 5,800 parking spots available for a 19,000-person arena. The Nassau Coliseum holds 7,000 spaces. Yes, a new LIRR train station for the arena will be installed so the number of spaces needed may be less; but parking is still an issue. The nearest parking lot will be located on the other side of the paddocks and the new hotel from the arena, and the other two lots are each more than one-half mile away. Trams will be provided to fans coming and going to/from the lots and the train station. Before the game, this may not be an issue as fans come and go at different times before the game. However, after the game is another story. When the Islander game ends, 19,000 fans will stream out of Belmont Arena at the same time. Does anyone really believe the trams will be a viable way to get people to their cars or to catch a train? This is another unprecedented burden placed on the fans of a pro sports team, and this is not a long-term solution for the next 30 years. What happens if a tram breaks down? What happens if a Long Islander misses their train because a tram took too long and now they have to wait an hour in the snow in January for the next train? The Islanders have not answered these questions.
The most crucial failure of the Belmont Arena plan is it’s security risks. We’ve already discussed the parking lots being far away from the arena and what it would take for the fans to get to their cars. What happens if there’s a legitimate emergency where people would need to evacuate the arena premises? In addition to this, whose police/fire/emergency response division is in charge of this new development? Is Nassau County going to create a new police precinct to ensure a safe environment at Belmont Arena and the surrounding area? Who pays for that? Many questions are still yet to be answered. The safety and security of those attending a hockey game or a concert or another event should be the #1 priority.
Based on all the rhetoric coming from Albany and from the Islanders owners, this project sounds as sure as an empty-netter. But is it really? There are significant issues associated with this project that are yet to be answered. The financials, parking, and security are the three biggest red flags at Belmont Arena. The favorites may have taken an early lead, but Islander fans should hold their horses until we see Anders Lee and Mathew Barzal in the Winner’s Circle.