The New York Islanders scored one of the biggest wins in franchise history on Wednesday, winning an RFP to build a new arena at Belmont Park.
The 18,000 seat arena is the centerpiece of a proposed $1B development that includes a 193,000 sq. ft. hotel, 435,000 sq. ft. of retail, dining and entertainment space and 10,000 sq. ft. of offices and parking. It marks a monumental day for the franchise.
"I think today was a great day because the franchise remains 1000% in New York," Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said. "Our concern was finding a permanent home for the Islanders."
Longtime Islanders fans are all too familiar with the frustrating process of trying to find the team a permanent home, which is why Wednesday's announcement called for a celebration.
"There's been a lot of things up in the air over the years that have fallen through that people were very hopeful for, it's nice to see them finally get rewarded and the organization get rewarded with something it truly deserves," John Tavares said.
That permanent home will be in Belmont Park, the site of the annual Belmont Stakes, one of the three horse races that make up the Triple Crown. The location is perfect for the Islanders, as it's accessible to fans on Long Island and in New York City. It'll have parking, as well as a Long Island Rail Road station, which is expected to receive enhancements from the MTA.
"This site is a fantastic site because it enables people from Metro New York to take a train from Grand Central or Penn Station direct 35, 36 minutes and it enables our great fans from Long Island to either take the train or drive here too," Ledecky said.
The Belmont site also puts the Islanders closer to the team's fanbase and rich history, one that includes four Stanley Cups won just down the road on Hempstead Turnpike.
"The Islanders are called the Islanders for a reason.This is really where the team belongs," Tavares said. "To have somewhere where it's written in stone that we're going to have a home that's going to be long and permanent and built for the Islanders on Long Island on a very historical place on Long Island I think is pretty special."
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was on hand with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Long Island legend Billy Joel for Wednesday's announcement, seemed to grasp what the team meant to the community.
"When they left and went to Brooklyn, Long Island lost something," Cuomo said. "It was sad because they were so much a part of the identity and the culture and the character of Long Island. I always felt when the Islanders left, they left a hole in the heart of Long Island. Today is a win-win-win."
Bettman called the arena an exciting beginning to a new era, citing that the development and arena "represents an opportunity for tremendous economic growth and an opportunity of community-oriented development."
No formal timetable for construction of completion of the project was announced on Wednesday, but Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said the team wants to begin as soon as possible. The Islanders are partnering with Sterling Project Development and Oak View Group to build the development.
That moment can't come soon enough for the Islanders, or their fans, who packed the press conference at Belmont's Turf and Field club and cheered wildly at the announcement and serenaded Ledecky with Yes! Yes! Yes! Chants.
"For our fans, this day is for you," Ledecky said. "You've been passionate supporters of the team, both on and off the ice. Today is a huge day for this franchise and you deserve it more than anyone else."
Video: Tavares on Isles Arena Announcement
Video: Ledecky on Isles Arena Announcement