State Seeks Quick Action on Belmont Parcels

Cuomo administration asking potential developers on two sites to bid by Oct. 17.

New York state officials are looking to fast-track development of two under-used parcels at Belmont Park, but are clearly backing away from plans developed four years ago for a possible VLT facility at the site.

The new request for proposal released this week by the Cuomo administration asks potential developers to bid by Oct. 17, with plans to either purchase or lease one or both of the sites adjacent to the racetrack.

Four years ago, the state, in its deal to extend the New York Racing Association's exclusive franchise to operate three tracks in New York, opened a door in a ground lease document permitting a casino on an eight-acre parking lot next to the track. In that 1988 deal, NYRA agreed to relinquish its claims of ownership of the tracks, giving the state title to Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks.

But the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is making clear, in what will certainly end up protecting Genting New York's Aqueduct casino from nearby competition, that it wants no VLT facilities at the Belmont sites it is putting up for bid.

The proposal was approved last week by the Franchise Oversight Board, a state entity controlled by the Cuomo administration. The actual request for proposal, a 16-page document, was posted this week on the website of the Empire State Development Corp., the Cuomo administration's economic development agency that is assisting the oversight board with the development plans.

The site that may have been in line for a VLT facility under terms of the 1988 lease is an eight-acre parcel adjacent to the western end of the Belmont Park clubhouse. Under terms of the RFP, possible development on that parcel is limited to hotel, resort, and spa facilities, "or any other use that is complementary to horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering, such as certain restaurants, lounges, supporting retail, and perhaps education or institutional uses."

The second parcel, 28 acres in size and adjacent to the Cross Island Parkway, could include, the RFP states, a mix of retail, entertainment, a hotel or professional office space. It must also feature "active or passive" recreational use along part of the site.

Neither site, the RFP specifically notes, can include gambling facilities or any kind of housing.

While now serving as overflow parking lots for the Belmont Stakes, the sites are zoned residential, though the RFP notes a long-term community plan of the Elmont neighborhood envisions them being rezoned as mixed-use.

The winning developer will have to pay $1 million up front to a fund that the state will use to pay various agencies for work associated with the project; leftover money will be returned to the developer. The state said it prefers a single plan for both sites, but will consider separate ideas for the two parcels.

Interested developers must submit a detailed project plan along with a lengthy list of financial, legal, and other background information of all investors. The RFP said if a ground lease plan is proposed, instead of a purchase deal, the state will consider rental payments ranging from a minimum $250,000 up-front fee to a percentage of gross revenues if, for instance, a hotel is proposed. The deal also requires developers to meet strict minority and women-owned business participation, at least 23% of the total value of the project, to be qualified to bid.

The timetable is short: a site visit by interested developers will be held Sept. 27 with final bids due by 2 p.m. on Oct. 17. The selected developer will then have a 45-day exclusivity agreement to negotiate final terms with the state.