By Naeisha Rose
The Belmont Park Redevelopment, a $1 billion development project to build a hockey stadium for the New York Islanders by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), is raising concerns about the impact the development would have on traffic in the already bustling corridor.
The proposed location for the project is near the busy Cross Island, Southern State and Belt parkways and Hempstead Turnpike, according to Mimi Pierre Johnson, an activist and former realtor that lives near the development sites.
The development sites for the project are underutilized parking lots from the Belmont’s equine racecourse, which is situated between Hempstead Avenue and Cross Island Parkway in Elmont, just a few miles away from Springfield Boulevard in Queens.
According to the traffic study conducted by ESDC, the Hempstead Avenue and Springfield Boulevard intersection is a “high crash” location based on crash data reviews from the last three years.
However, ESDC believes that roadway improvements planned by the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) have the potential to enhance traffic and pedestrian safety.
Hempstead Avenue is also a considered a priority corridor by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, which examines different streetways in order to see where there are high-traffic areas in order to implement ways to reduce pedestrian and vehicular accidents.
Tammie Williams, an Elmont resident and the co-founder of the Belmont Park Community Coalition, which has been protesting the site, is not for the development at all.
“This is not smart growth,” said Williams. “Arenas and stadiums are not economic boons, that is just data across America.”
According to a research study by the Federal Reserve in St. Louis called “The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums,” 83 percent of economists agreed, “‘providing state and local subsidies to build stadiums for professional sports teams is likely to cost the relevant taxpayers more than any local economic benefits that are generated.’”
If the project was approved, ESDC would make a $40 million payment instead of paying taxes on a 49-year lease, and rent would be supplemented based on attendance at the stadium with a minimum of $1 million annually, according to officials. The other lessees would be granted 10-25 year tax abatements for the hotel, mall and other amenities that come with the redevelopment.
The benefits that supporters claim will outweigh the negative impacts of the development may not be as robust as they would have people believe.
According to ESPN’s NHL Attendance Report, the Islanders currently have the worst attendance record.
Williams believes this five-star facility will not contribute much to the community, especially when it will draw away business from local stores that are paying property taxes that are going back to the area.
“Whatever money you spend at an isolated place – you are not spending at the local mom and pop store,” said Williams.
Williams also felt the development’s deal didn’t compare to what the New York Racing Association brings in for the community. According to the BPCC co-founder, NYRA generates approximately $12 million to the local school district and the Belmont games are only three days out of the year.
“They are planning on having 150 events a year,” said Williams. “That’s every other day. I love Beyonce, but I don’t need her to come to my house.”
ESDC, like many other developers of stadiums before it also left out the opportunity cost, or what economists call the “next-best alternative” of what could have been built in the area.
“If this fails because we didn’t take the time to study it, we are the ones left to deal with it,” said Williams. “One developer lives in London…and Cuomo lives in Westchester, they are just going to go back to their quiet homes as though nothing happened.”
An alternative that Williams prefers was a tech incubator, which would provide STEM jobs that come with higher wages.
“The proposed development site already houses Belmont Park, the largest Thoroughbred racing facility in the country. While average daily attendance is approximately 3,000 visitors during most of the year, attendance can reach between 60,000 and 100,000 visitors in peak periods,” Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) and Comptroller Scott Stringer wrote in a letter to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in December.
ESDC, which is the economic development wing of New York State, issued a traffic study that examined 35 intersections in the Belmont area, and only six intersections from the surrounding Queens neighborhoods.
There are approximately 20,000 people of Haitian descent who live in Elmont and the surrounding Queens neighborhoods of Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Rosedale, St. Albans, Hollis and Jamaica, according to U.S. Census data.
“While New York State is controlling this process, it is incumbent as a city that we get prepared for the worst-case development scenario,” Grodenchik and Stringer said. ” We would ask the Administration to take additional steps to study and mitigate the potential impacts of this proposed development. For instance, if ESDC is unwilling, DOT should independently study the potential impacts on the New York City streets and mass transit system.”
The proposed project was estimated to generate 5,093 vehicle trips into the Elmont and surrounding Queens area during peak a.m. and p.m. hours in the weekday, according to the traffic study conducted by the state. During three Saturday peak hours, 12,955 vehicle trips were anticipated.
“The proposed project would result in significant adverse traffic impacts at five intersections during the weekday a.m. peak hour, six intersections during the weekday p.m. peak hour, nine intersections during the Saturday midday peak hour, six intersections during the Saturday p.m. peak hour, and three intersections during the Saturday night peak hour,” according to the study.
The highway segments analyzed include the northbound and southbound Cross Island Parkway between the Southern State Parkway and Jamaica Avenue, according to the traffic study.
During games, ESDC projected approximately 2,300 people would use the LIRR in the weekdays, and approximately 1,330 people are anticipated to be on it on Saturdays.
Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), the new Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities & Commissions, said on Jan. 10 that he wants more than a traffic study.
He believes there should be a full-service Long Island Railroad Station that works year-round and for the developer of the project to pick up the bill. He also wants an expansion of the Cross Island Expressway and a restructuring of roads to deal with truck traffic and overcrowding leading up to the proposed venue.
“From the moment that the Belmont Park Redevelopment Civic and Land Use Improvement Project was announced, I have studied closely and listened carefully to the information provided by all parties including the impacted communities, the developers, and the Empire State Development Corporation,” Comrie said. “I am intently interested in ensuring that development projects are fiscally sound, economically responsible, and directly responsive to the needs and desires of the community.”
At the moment there appears to be no vision to have a full-time service Belmont station, according to Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the LIRR. However, the possibility of one is not off the table.
“We are continuing to explore all options for full-time service at Belmont Park,” said Donovan. “While funding remains an issue, and the existing infrastructure is not configured to support this without negatively affecting tens of thousands of daily LIRR customers on the Main Line, we maintain our commitment to provide reliable service and dedicated trains for events.”
There will need to be an override of the Town of Hempstead Building Zone Ordinance to facilitate the project, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Study by ESDC.