Belmont Listen Session Hosts Large Crowd
A packed Elmont Library hosted a “Listen Session” by the Empire State Development Corporation on uses for Belmont Park. The session was hosted by Senators Elaine Phillips, Todd Kaminsky, Leroy Comrie and Assemblymembers Clyde Vanel and Michaele Solages. The session’s goal was to listen to local resident ideas for the usage of Belmont property on the North and South Lots of the famed racetrack.
The session is the start of a new RFP process the State is embarking upon. A previous RFP that attracted three developers was scuttled by the State late last year. The action by the State has frustrated local community leaders who have worked toward economic revitalization for close to a decade.
“The listen session was an opportunity for all impacted communities to be heard. It’s frustrating for me to see so many people with viable, high quality ideas being made to sit and wait for a State government that has appeared to ignore their pleas. I hope this is the beginning of change and action,” said Senator Elaine Phillips. Senator Todd Kaminsky added, “Residents are eager to get on with the process of redeveloping Belmont. Now that the public has been heard on the RFP, I hope that the state publishes an RFP as soon as possible. I am excited to review the forthcoming proposals with an eye toward bringing real economic growth to Elmont and Nassau County.”
Over three hundred residents attended the forum that allowed speakers 3 minutes to state their thoughts on what the State should do with the land. The Empire State Development Corporation is a State agency that has been tasked with developing a process to identify sustainable economic development at the site. The agency is planning to issue a “request for proposals” or RFP in the near future according to Amy Varghese ESDC spokesperson.
Dozens of local residents stepped up to the microphone to have their say in the process. Community leaders from Elmont, Floral Park, Bellerose, South Floral Park, North Valley Stream and Franklin Square took the opportunity to state their thoughts and ideas to the panel.
Many audience members were also New York Islander fans who spoke out in strong support of locating a new hockey arena at the Belmont site. The audience predominantly was in favor of the Islander plan. Many people wore jerseys, held signs and wore hats to show their support of the NHL team.
Local leaders chose to focus on the land parcels as well as their concerns regarding the process started at the landmark racetrack. Floral Park Mayor Dominic Longobardi concentrated his remarks on the host communities and insuring that a transparent process was in place. “No matter what development is placed in Belmont, we have to look at police protection, traffic, job creation and so much more if it is to be a success. This has to be done carefully and collaboratively.”
Sandra Smith, Chair of the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development, noted that development plans and the process have to jump start now. “It’s now approaching a decade and we still have a parking lot and no jobs being created. This listen session was necessary for ESDC, but now is the time for action. That means the RFP has to be put out, developers need to sharpen their pencils and use the blueprint that our Elmont Vision plan put in place. That plan brings in revenue, creates jobs and bring real economic development.”
Longtime civic activist Patrick Nicolosi spoke at the session and noted that, “clearly something is going to happen at Belmont. The real question is will we do what is best? Do we finally bring business here, a hotel, restaurants and opportunity for the people? It’s a shame that we have had to wait this long. The Governor really has to take us seriously and step up. At the same time, the nonsense in our local communities of using race as a weapon and dividing people has to end. It may score some cheap political points for some, the real losers are our communities. ”
Nicolosi’s comments were leveled at a couple of speakers who inferred that race was at play with some development plans and ideas at Belmont Park. One speaker had their microphone turned off after they tried to monopolize the discussion and not adhere to ground rules established and followed by community members.
Elmont resident Bruce Schneider was strongly in favor of the New York Islanders making Elmont and Floral Park their home by noting the increase in tax revenue and job creation.
Not all local residents were in favor of the New York Islanders. Floral Park resident Matt Sexton received a smattering of boos and catcalls from audience members when he opined that “arenas are net economic losers.” Others echoed Sexton and promoted a farmers market, golf course and nature walks.
Elmont activist Tammie Williams renewed her call for housing at Belmont Park along with a wish list of other development comments. She was echoed by another resident earlier who called for housing and shops.
Floral Park Deputy Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald encouraged ESDC to take into account a Host Community Board that would not only act as a sounding board, but insure that any development would not negatively impact the surrounding areas. He further discussed that the Belmont Task Force would continue to provide information and communicate with the Senate Racing Wagering Committee.
Franklin Square Resident Nate Larocco observed the slow process for any decision to get done at Belmont. “I don’t understand why after almost ten years we are still at square one. It seems to me that whether you liked soccer, hockey or any plan, that something should be getting done. It looks to me that the people are being played for fools. It better change.”
Paul Sapienza, President of the Elmont Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the listen session forum but strongly felt that the time for action was long overdue. “We have a really well thought Elmont Vision Plan that takes into account all community stakeholders in the economic development process. It is a very progressive and smart plan that can be embraced by all communities. The bottom line is that we need the State to get to work. I hope this is the start of something really positive.”
Cheryl Lee spoke for most people in the auditorium when she noted that it took Vice President Biden to fly into Laguardia before modernizing the major air terminal became a reality. “Do we need for the President or the Vice President to come before something happens?”