Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shinnecock Roll Out Plans for Casino Development at Belmont Racetrack

Developers Roll Out Preliminary Plan for 
Casino At Belmont Racetrack

by Melissa Argueta

Senator Martins, Local Leaders Weigh in on Impact of Project to Nassau County Communities
Representatives from the Shinnecock Indian Nation recently gave Nassau County residents a sneak peek into a conceptual development plan for a casino at Belmont Racetrack during an Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development meeting held at the Elmont Library.
The tentative proposal calls to build a 500- to 600-unit hotel, a gaming facility and entertainment complex, which includes restaurants, a renovated Long Island Rail Road Station and a soccer field.
In a roundtable discussion at Anton Newspapers earlier this month, Senator Jack Martins advocated his support for the potential project as part of the Elmont revitalization initiative, and offered insight into how such a project could affect constituents living in the 7th Senatorial District.
Martins confirmed that the Shinnecock’s development proposal is not a done deal and still has to be approved on the state and federal levels. “Just because they announce that they are looking at Belmont, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It may never happen, just because of all of the different hurdles that they have to overcome, but the fact that the Shinnecocks are willing to take on that possibility, let them go ahead and do it,” Martins said.
Last month, Martins met with officials at the Empire State Development Corporation to discuss the state’s commitment to move forward with the Belmont casino. Regardless of whether the proposed plan is approved, Martins said the Elmont community will still proceed with its own revitalization efforts.
“The reality is, the odds are against there being a casino there. But they [the Shinnecock Nation] know that, and they are willing to try, so let them try. In the meantime, my job as I see it is to work with the community, look at the state’s resources and see what’s available to move the process forward for their own visioning,” Martins said.
Sandra Smith, chairwoman of the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development, has had direct meetings with Shinnecock Nation and said the Elmont community has embraced the idea of a casino in the area. The Coalition reached out before the Shinnecock got federal recognition in an attempt to foster a smooth dialogue in the future, which Smith says is working quite well.
“From my standpoint, the community as a whole is accepting the idea,” she said.
Furthermore, Smith has had unending conversations with Martins about the proposed casino and that both have been working to remedy the idea of it coming to fruition. Smith, through the coalition, has held “revitalization meetings” concerning Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont and the Belmont property has been on the table for the last “four or five years.”
“We spoke about this idea a lot,” Smith said. “He’s for it and so am I. He’s been very supportive in helping shine the light on this to move the process forward. The coalition reached out to the Shinnecock Nation before they received federal recognition to show that Elmont was interested in having something at Belmont.”
Smith met with the New York Racing Association (NYRA) in recent weeks and addressed having a proposed casino on the south lot at the racetrack. She said at the meeting, she notified NYRA that the coalition has been discussing the plan with Shinnecock Nation.
In an effort to get additional feedback on the project, Smith said the Shinnecocks will be hosting a series of meet-and-greets with local residents. Earlier this month, approximately 60 people attended the first information session and asked Shinnecock developers questions about the plan.
“It was quite positive,” Smith said. “It was an opportunity to have a community to community meeting. Their representatives wanted to meet the people of Elmont and have an informal conversation.”
The construction project could generate anywhere from 5,500 to 12,000 jobs from white-collar to blue-collar positions, according to Smith.
“Belmont is part of the Triple Crown; it’s a world known brand,” Martins said. “Our effort is to try and incorporate Belmont into the local community to provide economic opportunities.”
According to Martins, New York State owns the Belmont property, which is located in Elmont. However, the backstretch portion of the land is situated in the Village of Floral Park. Mayor Tom Tweedy and other village residents have publicly raised concerns about the additional traffic that may be produced in the village and surrounding towns.
In his Mayor’s Message printed in the July 22 Floral Park Dispatch, Tweedy estimated that a proposed casino at Belmont could draw as many as 51,000 visitors per day, including gaming visitors, racing fans and Belmont employees.
“One need not be Nostradamus to know the impact this will have on our village, especially our police. This year’s Belmont Stakes alone had an attendance of 55,779. That day, the Floral Park Police Department worked a double-staffed shift with additional overlapping shifts to cover traffic and other public safety issues due to the large number of visitors and the nature of the day,” Tweedy wrote.
Martins maintained that the surrounding towns will not be impacted negatively by development. “If a casino becomes a viable possibility, it will be located in a way that it does not interfere with Floral Park or areas that don’t want to see that kind of activity,” he said.
Smith stressed that the representatives from the Shinnecock Nation will hold future meetings with Floral Park officials to discuss their concerns as well. She also emphasized that the plan proposes aiding Floral Park’s water and flooding problems by building a drainage area to pull out water from the backstretch area and using it instead for decorative purposes.
Rich Forestano contributed to this story.

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