While fans cannot wait for the New York Islanders to make their long-awaited return to Long Island in 2021, how to expand LIRR service to the team’s forthcoming Belmont Park home is still in question. Answers, however, are expected to come by the end of September, Newsday reported.
As the LIRR only serves Belmont Park on days there is a horse race, the agency is “evaluating existing rail infrastructure” near the facility for the expansion, officials from Empire State Development (ESD) said.
Officials from the ESD and New York Arena Partners, the Islanders’ development partners, met with the LIRR four times since December, when the team scored the rights to build at Belmont Park. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2019.
The LIRR is “committed and will continue to work with ESD and the developers as this project progresses,” LIRR Spokeswoman Sarah Armaghan said.
A cornerstone of the Islanders’ proposal to develop at Belmont Park was to have a full-time LIRR stop there. The project will include an arena with 18,000 seats, 435,000-square feet of retail space, restaurants, a movie theater and a hotel with 250 rooms.
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Among the obstacles the LIRR expansion to Belmont Park faces is the fact that the railroad is already “at capacity on the main line during rush hour,” MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said at a state budget hearing in January. “I’m concerned about how that’s going to fit in at any one particular point in time.”
Most of the Islanders home games take place at 7 p.m., so it is expected that an influx of fans will join the evening rush-hour crowd on the LIRR for service to Belmont Park.
As the Islanders are not expected to skate at Belmont Park until the 2021-2022 NHL season, the team will split their home games between the Barclays Center, their home since 2015, and the revamped Nassau Coliseum, their original arena for 43 years, for the next three seasons.