ELMONT, N.Y. — It was a moment decades in the making.
Islanders ownership and players standing side by side with state and local officials breaking ground on a new arena they can call home. No, there’s no need to pinch yourself.
It really did happen.
To say it has been a bumpy road for the Islanders in their quest to build a new home would be an understatement. There was the Lighthouse Project, which got caught up in political red tape, a failed referendum, and a move to Brooklyn.
However, on Monday it was nothing but smiles and cheers as shovels hit the dirt at Belmont Park on the Islanders’ future home.
“Our fans have been wandering for a while,” Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said. “They haven’t had the right type of facility and to have this world-class, state of the art, third-generation arena to call home is something they’re worthy of. We’re so happy as stewards of the franchise that we can deliver that to them.”
Ledecky added: “They deserve Belmont Park arena and they’re going to have it.”
The moment wasn’t lost on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was beaming at the podium as he waxed poetically about the project he helped to orchestrate. Unlike projects in the past, the Islanders have had the full support from the Governor’s office since they won the rights to develop the land in December of 2017.
Cuomo also helped negotiate a deal that saw the Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum on a part-time basis until the Belmont arena is completed.
“It’s going to be state of the art and it is exactly what Long Island deserves,” Cuomo said. “The Islanders were just more than a hockey team. They were a Long Island identity. They said to Long Island, you are special and you have your own team. And that’s the name of the Islanders and God bless other parts where they play, but there is no place like the Islanders playing on Long Island – period.”
The $1.3 billion project will feature a 19,000 seat arena for the Islanders, 250-room hotel and retail space at Belmont Park. The arena is expected to open in time for the 2021-22 season.
It also ends a saga that has plagued the Islanders long before Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin took over as owners of the team. As projects failed to materialize, concern grew and grew that team would eventually be forced to move elsewhere.
“Today will go down as one of the great days in the history of the New York Islanders,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “This is the day that assures everybody that has anything to do with the Islanders, who cares anything about the Islanders, who is passionate about the Islanders — as Islander fans are — this is the future of this franchise right here on Long Island.”
There may still be some hurdles for the Islanders to overcome on the road to Belmont. Two separate lawsuits have been filed to stop the construction at the Belmont site.
On Saturday, a group Elmont civic leaders filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s authority to designate its own land for private development. They contend the land was parkland and used for emergency evacuations.
A suit filed by the Village of Floral Park takes issue with the environmental review process the Belmont project went through. That lawsuit was filed earlier this month.
“From my understanding, the state was in very close communication with the community,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. “There were many meetings that were open and it was done in what I believe was a very transparent process.”
Even with the pending litigation, the fact the Islanders have shovels in the ground on a new arena was something that was once unfathomable.