Governor hails ‘spectacular’ arena
Governor Kathy Hochul gave her seal of approval to the new UBS Arena in Elmont at a recent ribbon cutting. Sparing no superlatives, the state’s chief executive called it “spectacular,” “awesome” and “as good as it gets” after stating that she had been in plenty of arenas.
Noting the quick realization from its conception in December 2017 and groundbreaking in September 2019, Hochul praised those who “helped us write the screenplay for the 2021 edition of miracle on ice. You are witnessing the miracle on ice right here because you got it done in two years during a pandemic.”
The state put out bids to develop the underutilized 53 acres adjacent to the track and grandstand and a team headed by the Islanders’ ownership under the umbrella New York Arena Partners won approval from the Empire State Development (ESD) state agency. Construction was delayed for two months in 2020 because of COVID-19.
As part of the development, the LIRR built its first new station in 50 years at the north end of the property. The Elmont station is only serving eastbound trains until its western platform is built next summer.
Several team owners had sought to move from or replace the Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders’ home since the club’s initial 1972 season. Though the building was beloved by many fans and held memories of the dynasty years, it was seen as outdated and a drag on the Islanders’ finances.
After bidding farewell to the Coliseum at the end of the 2014-15 season as it faced reconstruction, the Islanders moved to Brooklyn’s Barclays Arena from 2015 -20. In 2020-21, the team played games at its old and new venues as the UBS Arena started taking shape.
“Today is a monumental day for New York and the Islanders as we cut the ribbon on the world-class new UBS Arena,” Hochul said. “This is the first step in the newly redeveloped Belmont Park, which will serve as an internationally recognized destination for sports, entertainment, retail and hospitality. As New York continues to recover from the COVID pandemic, Belmont Park will be instrumental in strengthening the regional economy and boosting tourism for generations to come.”
Kevin Law, the former longtime head of the Long Island Association and nominee to chair the ESD, said the arena “will create a significant boost to tourism and economic activity for the region. Tourism and hospitality are important to the state’s economy and the redevelopment of Belmont Park will transform the area into a premier entertainment destination.”
Also on hand for the ribbon cutting was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who said, “I want to congratulate Governor Hochul, the Islanders, their fans and our partners in government and the private sector whose vision, hard work and commitment made this historic day possible. For years the Islanders have dreamed of a first-class, state-of-the-art arena they can call home. Today, that dream comes true.”
According to published reports, the arena, along with its Northwell Health Ice Center practice facility in East Meadow, will allow the franchise to attract and retain players.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said, “It’s a historic day for Nassau County and for Islanders Nation. The Belmont project has benefited our local communities since day 1, creating new jobs and economic activity, expanding our public transit network and bringing our beloved Isles home for good‑a hat trick for Nassau. As an avid supporter of this effort, I’m proud of the team that got the job done.”
New York Arena Partners is also renovating nearby Elmont Road Park after community input and planning workshops, and providing improvements to Hendrickson Avenue Park.
Future projects include a 350,000 square-foot destination entertainment and retail complex, a 250-key hotel and a community center.
A slew of high profile entertainers have already played or slated appearances at the arena, including Harry Styles, Journey, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, who sold out his Dec. 27 show in 30 minutes back in July.
The project has faced lawsuits from both the Village of Floral Park and Elmont residents over various issues. The lawsuits were dismissed in May 2020.
Nassau County Legislator Carrié Solages (D–Lawrence), whose 3rd district includes Elmont, stated that though the arena is a positive for the Islanders, he would not attend the ribbon cutting as he could not support the project.
“This project seemed to have been pushed through by former Governor Cuomo at the expense of local residents, who have been forced to contend with traffic, garbage, pollution and construction noise at all hours of the day—all while promises of community benefits remain thus far unfulfilled,” Solages said. “Residents are furthermore disappointed that the future train station—which was promised for Elmont—will be located in Bellerose Terrace and the question of how they will get between the bus stops along Hempstead Turnpike and the new train station at the north end of the Belmont property remains unresolved.”
Floral Park, which borders Belmont Park and the new UBS Arena, is reportedly facing some adverse effects.
“ A number of issues arose with regards to the opening of the arena,” Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald said in a letter to residents. “A number of these issues, especially in and around the North—now called Emerald Lot—that we sadly and accurately predicted would occur, have occurred. We continue to speak with our state elected representatives, state agencies and others on a daily basis to work on rectifying most of these issues. We have proposed several steps that can be taken that we believe are reasonable solutions that can and should be quickly implemented.”
Fitzgerald said that any pre-existing gates in the village to Belmont Park will be locked permanently. Residents in the village reported seeing people climbing fences at certain locations to gain access to and from Belmont Park. Fitzgerald urged residents that if they want to attend events at the arena, the better way to get there if they don’t want to drive is taking the Long Island Rail Road.
-Additional reporting by Anthony Murray.