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Newsday (New York)


The owners of the Islanders and Mets and a sports arena development company backed by Madison Square Garden are in talks to build a new hockey arena at Belmont Park, among other local sites, sources involved with the discussions confirmed Friday.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private, said negotiations involving Belmont and the other sites are underway among the sports executives as well as the offices of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the not-for-profit New York Racing Association, which operates the racetrack.

The discussions are in the early stage and no decisions have been made on the future home of the Islanders. Several obstacles remain, the sources said.

Among the issues are placing a major entertainment venue between the nearby Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Islanders currently play their home games, and the Nassau Coliseum. All of the arenas need to rely on concerts and other entertainment draws.

Other New York City locations being considered, such as the Willets Point area adjacent to Citi Field, remain a possibility for a new Islanders arena, sources said.

The Islanders, who are owned by Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin, and Mets, who are controlled by the Wilpon family, declined to comment about the talks, which were first reported by Bloomberg News. Malkin and Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon have known each other for several years, sources said.

The Oak View Group, a company that develops, manages and provides content for sports arenas, is also involved in the discussions. Oak View started in November 2015 as a joint venture of sports executive Tim Leiweke, Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan - who also owns the Knicks and Rangers - and Irving Azoff, who manages numerous recording artists.

Leiweke and MSG declined to comment Friday. Azoff didn't return a call seeking comment.

The Cuomo administration referred calls for comment to the Empire State Development Corp.

Eric Phillips, chief spokesman for de Blasio, said, "We don't have any comment."

The Islanders are in their second season at Brooklyn's Barclays Center in a deal that neither side has been pleased with. Barclays Center hasn't seen the revenue expected. The Islanders are averaging 13,003 fans at Barclays Center this season, second lowest in the NHL. The Islanders have been unhappy with the quality of the ice, the marketing of the team and the atmosphere for the fans.

The Islanders and Barclays Center each have the ability to opt out of their 25-year agreement in January after a seven-month stretch in which they are contractually obligated to engage in "good faith discussions" about redoing their agreement. If the Islanders opt out, they can leave after the 2017-18 season or the 2018-19 season. If Barclays Center opts out, the team has to leave after the 2018-19 season.

Belmont Park is seen as a possibility for an Islanders arena following the state economic development agency's decision in December to scrap proposals to redevelop the land, four years after the initial requests for proposal was issued.

"Any development at Belmont will occur through the normal process of an RFP, which has not been released yet," said Amy Varghese, spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corp., which handles major economic development projects. "Any talk of development at this point is speculative."

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has tried to woo the The de Blasio administration could not be immediately reached for comment.Islanders to the renovated Nassau Coliseum, which is scheduled to reopen in April. The team left in 2015. Mangano met with Ledecky last November.

"While it's certainly an interesting proposal for the Rangers to take ownership in the arena of their archrival, it would at least bring the Islanders back to Nassau County," Mangano said of the Belmont proposal in a written statement. "The public has been loud and clear that they do not want tax dollars used to fund a sports team, and I believe the Islanders can return to their real home at the New Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum without taxpayer dollars."

Barclays Center owners, who are spending $130 million to renovate the Coliseum, were selected by Nassau County over Madison Square Garden's bid for the redevelopment rights to the Coliseum and surrounding area.

Kevin Law, CEO of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, came out Friday against the prospect of building another sports arena within driving distance of the Coliseum. "The true home of the New York Islanders is the new Nassau Coliseum," he said in a statement, "and the state should be facilitating their return to the Coliseum and not anywhere else, including Belmont."

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), whose district includes the portion of Belmont where an arena could be built, cited the property's size and access to mass transportation as a significant positive.

"Considering that Belmont is easily accessible by the LIRR and has enough space for a major sports team, I think it makes sense to consider the site as a potential path to bring the Islanders back home to Long Island," Kaminsky said.

With Matthew Chayes

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February 25, 2017


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