Report Backs Belmont Casino, Development

Report Backs Belmont Casino, Development
Photo: Coglianese Photos

A New York state government panel said Belmont Park can support a sprawling casino, hotel, retail, and housing development to bring jobs and money to the state.

The report offers few surprises since Gov. David Paterson, to whom the report’s authors serve under in their state jobs, has already embraced a casino at the New York Racing Association track. The facility, under terms of last year’s franchise deal with NYRA, is owned by the state.

The study, by Empire State Development president Marisa Lago and New York State Racing and Wagering Board chairman John Sabini, is already facing a tough test in the legislature. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who controls the fate of bills in the Democratic-run House, has sharply criticized the idea of adding another casino in downstate New York.

And Delaware North, which has still not finalized a deal to begin construction of the long-stalled video lottery terminal casino at nearby Aqueduct, several weeks ago said it wants to re-do its percentage take from VLT revenue if Belmont is allowed to bring new competition to the future Aqueduct facility.

The report looks at developing two parcels totaling 36 acres at Belmont. The report said a hotel and casino could be located on an eight-acre portion, while a nearby 20-acre parcel could house retail space, a small hotel, senior housing, and recreational facilities.

Still not completed, though, is a complete economic analysis of the possible projects.

“Belmont Park is an enormous asset for economic development in New York," Paterson said in a statement. "I commend all of the participants for their thoughtful analysis and commitment to the Belmont Park redevelopment study recommendations. In these times of fiscal crisis, it’s important that we move forward with projects like Belmont, which can create new jobs, generate additional tax revenue, and bolster economic development in the surrounding communities in Nassau and Queens counties.”

Sabini said Belmont’s development potential “has never been realized." He said the report will be “reawakening this sleeping giant of a state, and community, asset."

The report provides various options, including a stand-alone casino with 240,000 square feet of space all the way up to a large hotel with VLTs located in the grandstand in a space totaling 540,000 square feet. Another option includes 465,000 square feet of mixed-used retail and senior housing.

A top Republican in the state legislature, however, accused the Paterson administration of moving on a snail's pace both with the Aqueduct deal and now with Belmont. Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, said he is concerned the new report makes only "very general recommendations'' about Belmont that cold take another year to develop into specifics.

Skelos said the report makes only the same kinds of recommendations he and others put forth last year.

"With our economy struggling, people worried about their future, and a state budget gap that could result in tax hikes and massive cuts, we must take advantage of every economic development opportunity available to create new jobs and generate revenues for the state and local governments,'' Skelos said in a statement released Feb. 23. "The development of Belmont and Aqueduct racetracks present unique economic development opportunities that are being needlessly delayed and are costing the state millions of dollars. The governor should sign the Aqueduct (memorandum of understanding) immediately and move the development of Belmont forward at a faster pace."

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