In a press conference on Wednesday, the New York Islanders announced that they had won a $1 billion development bid to build a new 18,000-seat arena, hotel, and other amenities on the grounds of Belmont Park, just outside New York City.
The Islanders played at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum since their inception in 1972, until their move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2015.
“The Islanders are back where they belong,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said from a stage alongside team owner Jon Ledecky and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. The move required fans who live on Long Island to commute over an hour to see games. In addition, the team has struggled to gain the same local support in Brooklyn as they enjoyed on Long Island; they were last in the league this year in average attendance and among the last in the two seasons prior.
The Islanders submitted a development bid for a portion of the Belmont complex in September with several partners, including owners of the New York Mets and Madison Square Garden. They won the bid over New York City FC, who now play at Yankee Stadium and hoped to build their own soccer stadium on the site.
“This will be more than an arena,” Ledecky said of their privately financed project. “This site will be the home of economic development.”
Belmont Park, which opened in 1905, attracts crowds approaching 100,000 or more when it plays host to the Belmont Stakes in June, but sees far fewer attendees on most days during the May through October racing season. The Islanders’ arena will be built on what is currently one of the track’s parking lots, not far from a Long Island Rail Road station.
Some other details about the project are yet to be announced, including when the team will begin playing in the new arena and whether they will have to find a temporary home after it leaves the Barclays Center after the 2018-19 NHL season. Gov. Cuomo suggested a temporary return to the Nassau Coliseum, which reopened last year following a $165 million renovation, while the new arena is built.
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“We’re just beyond happy,” said Claire Harding, president of the Islanders booster club. “It will be great. It’s a great location and we’ll have our own building.”
“The Islanders are called the Islanders for a reason,” star player John Tavares Wednesday. “This is really where the team belongs.”