New York Islanders sale
New York Islanders John Tavares shoots against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, May 11, 2013. (Photo by Joe Nuzzo)

The New York Islanders won their bid to build a new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, making real fans’ hope that the NHL team will skate home to Long Island.

The hockey team and its financial backers got the greenlight to build a new 18,000-seat arena on New York State land adjacent to the Belmont racetrack in what officials touted as a $1-billion project.

“When the Islanders left, they left a hole in the heart of Long Island,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told fans and supporters during a news conference Wednesday. “The islanders are back where they belong.”

The project is estimated to create more than 12,000 construction jobs and over 3,100 permanent jobs. Built on 36 acres of parking lots and vacant space next to the Belmont racetrack that hosts the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the area surrounding the new arena will include a full service hotel as well as 435,000 square feet of dining and retail. 

The rebooted New York Cosmos soccer team previously proposed building a stadium on the site, but the Empire State Development Corp. scrapped that and other bids made years ago. The Cosmos then moved to Brooklyn.

The Islanders left the coliseum in Uniondale, their original home, and moved to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2015 after multiple failed attempts to renovate The Old Barn, as fans call the coliseum. Among the factors for choosing Belmont over returning to the coliseum is the reduced seating capacity at the Uniondale arena and the fact that Belmont has a Long Island Rail Road station.

Earlier this year, reports emerged that the Isles were looking to leave Barclays and find a new home, reigniting hope that they might return to the recently renovated coliseum, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the coliseum is “not a long-term option.”

Cuomo noted at the news conference that he’s hoping Bettman will allow the Islanders to play at least some of their games at the coliseum before the new arena is built.

Investors in the new arena include Sterling Project Development, Madison Square Garden Co. and private equity firm Oak View Group, the Press previously reported. Sterling is owned by the Wilpon family, who also own the NY Mets, while MSG is run by the Dolan family, who also own the NY Rangers and the NY Knicks.

“While it’s certainly an interesting proposal for the Rangers to take ownership in the arena of an arch-rival, it would at least bring the Islanders back to Nassau County,” outgoing Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano has said.

“I am excited to finally welcome the Islanders home to Nassau County,” Nassau County Executive-elect Laura Curran said. “As County Executive, I’ll make sure we work with the local community and stakeholders to make sure the area is developed with their input. Economic development at Belmont will benefit all Nassau County taxpayers.”

Bettman suggested that Billy Joel may play the first show opening the new arena, which the commissioner said will host concerts as well as sports.

“If you’re an Islander fan or your an Islander player, you’ve got a lot to be excited about,” he said.

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Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.