Islanders Break Ground on New Arena in Elmont

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Islanders Captain Anders Lee carries the puck across the blue line during the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 26th, 2019. (Photo by Joe Nuzzo)

Officials held a ground-breaking ceremony Monday to celebrate construction starting on the Islanders’ new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont — the project that’s bringing the NHL team home to Long Island.

Fans cheered the development, which includes a new Long Island Rail Road station that will make it easier for the public to take mass transit to games and concerts at the $1.3 billion arena. But the project is not without its critics. The ceremony came days after opponents filed a second lawsuit that aims to block the project.

“This is going to be a transformative project that I think is gonna energize all of Long Island,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Of the economic benefits, new LIRR station, and Isles’ homecoming, the governor said: “The technical economic development term is that is a hat-trick, my friends.”

The new 19,000-seat arena being built on 43 acres of vacant land next to the racetrack that’s home to the Belmont Stakes is slated to open in time for the team’s 2021-2022 season. Officials say it will bring 10,000 construction jobs, 3,200 permanent jobs, shops, restaurants, a hotel and billions of dollars in economic activity to the area. The long-awaited project comes after several attempts to rebuild the Isles’ original home at Nassau Coliseum failed, prompting the team to moved to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The celebration comes after several Elmont civic groups jointly filed a lawsuit Saturday in state court in Mineola challenging the legality of the environmental review that state officials used to approve the project. The suit echoes similar claims that the Village of Floral Park made in a separate case that was recently filed.

Despite the pending litigation, the ground-breaking ceremony was a formality held a month after construction actually began. Work crews could be seen laying the groundwork for the project in the distance behind the podium where the ceremony was held. If opponents will succeed in convincing a judge to halt the work remains to be seen.

In the meantime, officials also announced that the NHL approved a request to have the Islanders play an additional seven regular season games — for a total of 28 — at the newly renovated NYCB Live, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, where the team won their record four consecutive Stanley Cups four decades ago.