The Islanders come home

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The Islanders come home
The New York Islanders played two games this past weekend against Calgary and Toronto in the brand new UBS Arena. (Photo courtesy of the UBS Arena)

Welcome home, Islanders.

Over the weekend, the team played its first two games in the brand new UBS Arena in Elmont against the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs after a long wait and years of uncertainty. 

The UBS Arena at Belmont Park, nicknamed “the Stable,” becomes the franchise’s third home. Since its inception in 1972, Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale hosted the team, which also played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn briefly in the 2015-2016 season.

The homestand, finishing this Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, ends what was a franchise-record 13-game road trip to open the season. 

Despite the winless weekend, where the Islanders were missing players due to COVID-19 protocols, attendees were more than amazed at the $1.1 billion venue.

“This is as fine a venue as there is in the world,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, according to reports. 

The sold-out crowd Friday got to see everything the arena has to offer during the game against the Flames, the same franchise that helped the Islanders open the Nassau Coliseum when it was located in Atlanta, including 17 bars and the largest arena scoreboard in New York. The arena also has  68 bathrooms, mitigating the congested concourses during intermission experienced in the Coliseum, and an air-filtration system intended to eliminate airborne viruses.

“It absolutely blew me away,” Islanders forward Mathew Barzal said, according to ESPN. “I walked right in, saw the gym, saw the eating area, and I couldn’t wait to see more. The entire facility and rink and how it was set up was so high-end. … We’re a really lucky group.” 

For the time being, the Islanders are going to have to wait before turning the UBS Arena into a true home field advantage that fans and opposing teams are accustomed to, said Islanders head coach Barry Trotz. 

“It really won’t be our home rink for a while,” said Trotz, according to NBC Sports. “It’s like a neutral-site game for the first month. But we’re thrilled that we’re getting into a new rink. It’s great for the fans and it’s great for the franchise.”

Joining in the opening ceremony festivities were government officials excited about the Belmont Park Redevelopment Project that projects to create 10,000 jobs and generate $2.7 billion in economic activity for Nassau County. 

Project plans were revealed during the later half of 2017. The arena broke ground in September 2019 and construction resumed in May after a delay due to COVID-19. Alongside the arena, the plan includes a new hotel and 350,000 square feet of retail space in the future. 

“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,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday. “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.”

Now that the arena is open, the redevelopment plan will continue with construction of a  parking garage along Hempstead Turnpike and the new Elmont LIRR station.

As development continues, county and village officials are hoping to ease quality of life concerns. 

In October, Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald of Floral Park released a statement saying that a land dispute between developers and the village regarding the northern lot of the track bordering resident properties had been settled. At the last Board of Trustees meeting, he said he is still speaking with developers regarding issues he sees that deviate from the environmental impact statement submitted prior to construction. 

In 2019, Floral Park filed a lawsuit asking a judge to overturn all approvals, stop construction on the site and restart the environmental review process, citing a “flawed” public bidding process and “inadequate” environmental review, according to documents.  A state Supreme Court justice dismissed the suit in May 2020. 

Nassau County Legislator Carrié Solages  (D-Lawrence), whose district incorporates South Floral Park and Elmont, released a statement last week saying he could not lend his support during the opening.

“Unfortunately, over the last few years, 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.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a self-proclaimed Islanders fan, said the project opens a new era for the team and county.

“It’s a historic day for Nassau County and for Islanders Nation,” Curran said on Friday. “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. Let’s go Islanders!”

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