Readers Write: Islanders’ Belmont Arena faces serious Covid-19 delays

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Your story “Justice dismisses Belmont lawsuits” (Robert Pelatz — May 22) may be true, but there are still many old and new issues remaining to be resolved.  Several months ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that due to the coronavirus outbreak, non-essential construction work would be suspended.  As a result, construction of the new Islanders’ Belmont Arena has been halted for eight weeks.  Rumor has it that construction will resume within the next few weeks.

In January, the MTA awarded a contract to Judlau Construction Inc.for $65.07 million.  This is for construction of the new Elmont Long Island Rail Road Station to support the arena.  Did the MTA ask the contractor to stop work on this project as well?  If the contractor proceeded, there would have been the usual groundbreaking ceremony attended by MTA, LIRR and elected officials who support the project.  There has been no such event to date

Whatever happened to the other $40 million worth of MTA LIRR capital work which makes up the balance of $105 million for transportation improvements to the Belmont Arena.  With less than 17 months to go, how will all of this impact the previously promised opening of both the Belmont Arena and Elmont LIRR Station’s eastbound platform by October 2021?

The Belmont Park arena project promises all sorts of service options that are already available. Many of these may not be financially viable now as a result of COVID-19. How many of the several thousand new jobs may actually not be created?  Many of the promised new stores and boutiques in the “retail village” may never open.  The same is true for the proposed new dining options, sports bars and restaurants.

Next, there will be less need for conference centers and meeting rooms along with movie theaters and concert facilities.  All of these so-called benefits would just compete against existing shopping malls, upscale stores, restaurants, sports bars and end up stealing some of their customers.  There are already plenty of hotels and colleges which offer conference centers.  The same is true for movie theaters and smaller, more intimate concert facilities.

How much seating capacity may be lost due to the long-term ramifications of COVID-19? Since there are fewer than 60 Islanders home games, the facility will have to be leased out for another 100 events to turn a profit.  Why would any rock band appear there, when they can go to Jones Beach Theater, Westbury Music Fair, Nassau Coliseum, Shea Stadium, Arthur Ash Stadium, Forest Hills Stadium. Madison Square Garden, Barclay Arena or Radio City Music Hall?  The same is true for World Wrestling Federation, circuses, college sports or other events requiring space for several thousand participants.

When will the LIRR determine whether tickets will be priced at Zone 3 or Zone 4?  What about offering Queens residents weekday Atlantic Pilot or weekend City Zone discount tickets?

What is the current status as to who is going to purchase, operate and maintain the new fleet of shuttle buses, which will connect the Elmont LIRR Station with the Islanders’ arena?  Bus manufacturers have a backlog of up to two years for orders already placed by transit agencies.  Will they be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act?  Who will build a facility for maintenance, storage and powering up electric shuttle buses?  Building such a facility can easily require two years. What are the capacity of these electric buses, which could range from 20 to 60 riders?

It will be a major challenge to complete all of the above in time to support the first hockey puck hitting the ice in October 2021. Don’t be surprised if the Islanders play their 2021 – 2022 season in the Nassau Coliseum.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

(Larry Penner — transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit bus and subway, Staten Island Rail Road, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).  .

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