With the elections and all the promises that come with it behind us, we are finally getting some real talk from our government leaders, and it’s as ugly for New York commuters as the ride home after the season’s first snowfall. The MTA is talking about raising fares, cutting service or both, all while waiting for funding to fix the subways.
But that’s only the “real talk” they want you to hear.
Even as commuter rail and straphangers are bracing for more pain, there is a quiet boondoggle in the offing at Belmont Racetrack, where the state is considering a $300 million giveaway to billionaires like Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, who need a new train station as part of a plan to ram a hockey area and a shopping mall down the collective throats of Elmont, Floral Park and Southeast Queens.
If you thought our state was being short-sighted with Amazon in Long Island City, come to Belmont.
Empire State Development Corp. is telling the public the upgrades needed to accommodate a new arena can be handled for a mere $30 million, which is nothing more than a fig leaf that will have to give way to a full-blown train station needed to make the project viable at a cost to the MTA of more than $300 million. It’s typical of ESDC, which has been cagey at best, and typically secretive at worst.
But let’s be clear: Not one cent of public money should be spent on a train station for a hockey arena and a mall, not when the real needs of LIRR and subway riders are not getting addressed.
The Mets’ ownership, along with other billionaire partners, are pushing this as part of a massive project called Belmont Park which, taken together, will overwhelm the Southwest Nassau and Southeast Queens neighborhoods bordering on the Cross Island Parkway. It’s not just the arena for the New York Islanders and 435,000 square feet of retail space in the form of a new outdoor megamall. There will also be a new hotel, 30,000 square feet of office space and maybe some parkland.
It will generate new, intolerable car and truck traffic to an area that is already too congested. After the plan, more traffic will overflow onto the streets of Southeast Queens, Floral Park and Elmont.
State officials also have no answer for the logistical nightmare that awaits their proposal for upgrades at Belmont: Everyone who lives east of the site on Long Island (namely, most Islander fans, and all Long Island shoppers) would still be required to go to Jamaica Station in Queens and transfer to a train heading back to Belmont to get there. What?
Even MTA officials have cast doubt on the viability of any Belmont plan. Former Chairman Joe Lhota has questioned the MTA’s ability to add the necessary capacity for hockey fans and mall shoppers. We know there is nothing in the five-year capital plan for the MTA to pay for this project, so that means other projects will get cut unless the MTA increases its spending levels. And if they try to build this arena and megamall without a clear transit plan, everyone can expect a daily repeat of June’s Belmont Stakes fiasco. Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont and Floral Park were one big parking lot.
The state must tell us how much a new LIRR station will cost, who is paying and when it will be completed — before any approvals are granted. We need to know, and we need to know now.