Can anyone explain why a “destination” Retail Village is inexorably tied to a new arena for the Islanders at Belmont? Is Islanders owner Scott Malkin more loyal to Ferragamo than he is to Lamoriello?
There are a lot of serious questions (trams, parking, safety, management) that remain with the proposed Belmont Arena project. But the proposed mall and the logistical traffic impact on communities in eastern Queens and Nassau are real head scratchers.
Up until now, the major concerns about the Belmont Arena have come primarily from Elmont/Floral Park/Bellerose citizens. But it’s time we talk about Queens.
The proposed Belmont Arena development is situated next to the Cross Island Parkway, which divides Queens and Nassau County. Due to its proximity to Belmont Arena, Queens will be affected a lot more than most people may think. Commercial vehicles cannot drive on the Cross Island, Grand Central nor Belt Parkways, but they are allowed on the Clearview Expressway. Unfortunately, the Clearview’s terminus is on Hillside Avenue – about 3 miles from the arena. That’s where almost every commercial vehicle heading to Belmont will begin a trek through the side streets of Hollis and Queens Village to get to the project site. Or will they?
The two nearest access roads to get from Hillside to Belmont have issues. (Almost ironically) the Long Island Railroad trestle clearance on 211th Street has a clearing of just 9 feet, 9 inches and the clearance at Hempstead Avenue stands at 12 feet, 7 inches. The average tractor-trailer is 13 feet, 6 inches high. How would a commercial vehicle reach Belmont Arena this way? Simply put, they won’t.
There are a couple of alternate commercial routes, including utilizing the Van Wyck Expressway and eventually driving six miles through Jamaica, Hollis and Queens Village to the Belmont development. Additionally, commercial vehicles could go from the Long Island Expressway to the Horace Harding Turnpike through Utopia and Fresh Meadows before turning onto Francis Lewis Boulevard through Cunningham Park, Hollis, and Queens Village to get to the property.
The naysayers may dismiss the inconvenience of a few years of construction trucks and materials rumbling through side streets in Queens, as just the “cost of doing business.”
But this commercial access problem is so much more.
In addition to the 3-4 years of construction vehicle disruptions for the building of the arena, the hotel, the elevated parking garage, the office complex, the Retail Village, and the renovation of the Racetrack, you have this. The arena is slated to host 220 events per year. That means 220 days of tractor trailers hauling stage equipment, lighting, sound systems and entertainers – back and forth through those same side streets in Queens.
In an attempt to solve a shortage of natural gas to help power the entire plant, Malkin and his partners have proposed burying a pair of 30,000-gallon tanks on the site and filling them with propane. It is anticipated that one tanker truck delivery would be required after every event in the proposed arena. Those tanker trucks will access the site 220 times per year through the side streets of Queens.
And what about the Retail Village? Tractor trailers and commercial vehicles will be brought in DAILY to stock the shelves, accommodate the restaurants and service the racetrack and hotel.
This is also unlike any shopping mall the New York area has seen. Scott Malkin’s “Value Retail” has built 11 destination Retail Centers in the suburbs of major cities in Europe and Asia. Last year, those locations attracted more than 40 million unique shoppers. That equates to 10,000 unique shoppers per day – 365 days per year. The Belmont Retail Village will be Malkin’s first venture in America. Among other amenities, these centers feature chauffeur service from area airports and metropolitan cities. But more pertinent to a commercial vehicle-impaired neighborhood, they feature luxury coach buses called the Shopping Express® EVERY DAY, busloads of shoppers will be brought through those same side streets of Queens from their NYC hotels and area airports to reach the mall.
It is only when all of these commercial vehicles destined for the Retail Village turn on to Hempstead Avenue that the journey gets potentially dangerous. The Final EIS Report almost flippantly referenced this potentially dangerous issue.
On Page 11-62 the EIS report states: Trucks and buses would travel to and from the Project Sites via Hempstead Avenue or Hempstead Turnpike due to access restrictions on the Cross Island Parkway. Trucks and buses to the retail village would travel eastbound along Hempstead Turnpike and would enter the Project Sites via Gate 14… and all trucks and buses from the retail village would exit the Project Sites via Gate 14 to travel eastbound on Hempstead Turnpike and would not exit the Project Sites via the Cross Island Parkway. Trucks and buses traveling westbound along Hempstead Turnpike traveling to the retail village would turn around at a location in Queens to approach the site in the eastbound direction. Similarly, trucks and buses exiting the retail village destined to travel westbound on Hempstead Avenue would exit the Project Sites in the eastbound direction and then turn around at a location such as the intersection of Hempstead Turnpike with Locustwood Boulevard/Gate 5 Road.
You read that right. Commercial vehicles (and Shopping Express® luxury coaches) can only access the Retail Village as they head eastbound on Hempstead Avenue. Likewise, ALL commercial traffic leaving the Retail Village must exit heading eastbound.
In plainer English, the EIS report suggests that all commercial vehicles heading to the property from the east – make a U-turn “at a location in Queens,” and that all commercial vehicles leaving the Retail Village make a U-turn on Hempstead Avenue in order to turn back west.
Does someone in authority want to go on record as saying this is a sound and safe plan?
This begs the question – Why the mall?
Where is the consumer research and demographic study that states Elmont needs a mall? There are three major malls (Green Acres, Roosevelt Field, Americana) located less than 10 miles away. Hell, the gleaming new Hudson Yards on the west side of Manhattan is just 20 minutes away from Jamaica on the LIRR.
In an age when ANYTHING can be ordered online and delivered to your front door the next day, are malls passe? As of 2017, Time reported there were just 1,100 malls still in operation in America. Credit Suisse estimated that 25% of those were at risk of closing in the next five years.
Suppose the Belmont Arena gets built, but the property south of Hempstead Turnpike, currently assigned for the Retail Village, is developed as 2,500 parking spots for arena goers? That’s 2,500 fewer cars that will have to navigate the maze of the North, East or South Belmont lots. That’s about 5,000 fewer fans clamoring for those post-game “trams to the train.” That parking area is an easy on and off for cars to the Cross Island. The Parkway will still be congested, but 2,500 parking spots within actual walking distance of the arena would provide at least some relief.
Even the local citizens might be appeased. “We are not opposing the development,” said Floral Park Mayor Dominick Longobardi back in March. “And, we are certainly not opposing the Islanders hockey team. The Islanders will be a tenant for 40 nights along with the other tenants on other nights. This is a development project being done by Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State through the Empire State Development Corp., all of whom are responsible to the taxpayers of this great state. It’s not about where the Islanders will have their home; it’s about the use of New York state land that belongs to each and every one of us here in this room.”
Because the Islanders agreed to move their home to Belmont, New York State ceded the land to be developed in the retail village to Malkin for almost nothing. For the next 49 years, Malkin and his partner will pay nothing to lease the land at Belmont. New York State also granted a 15-year tax abatement for the Retail Village. The partners will make a modest investment in the proposed LIRR station and electrical and sewer improvements at the site. But that’s it.
But the question remains. Why the mall?
If there was no mall, Islanders fans would have a far better experience with 2,500 walkable parking spots south of Hempstead Turnpike. Commercial traffic would be sliced considerably without those trucks and buses servicing 10,000 shoppers per day. Water, sewage and power needs would be more manageable for all local utilities. There are a myriad of reasons why no mall makes the most sense.
If Islanders owner Scott Malkin was amenable to (not just down-sizing) but, eliminating the mall, it sounds like a compromise might be reached with locals to hasten that first shovel in the ground. Put it in writing, so that no backdoor deals can come back to hurt Islanders fans. For the term of your lease, no retail or commercial properties can be built in the lot south of Hempstead Turnpike. Since we’re hanging at the racetrack, I’d bet that concession gets your arena done.
What Malkin needs to decide right now, is whether his first priority is to the Islander players and their fans, or to his “destination” Retail Village.