Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Detroiters Pimping Belmont Casino Plans to Locals; Unsure if nearby business will be harmed

Detroit developer reveals plan renderings
Michael McKeon, Lance Boldrey, former Gov. John Waihee, 
 and Michael J. Malik, Sr. (Gateway Casino Resorts)  

By Jackie Nash
A plan by the Shinnecock Indian Nation to build a casino at Belmont Park has been in the pipeline for several months, generating wide support from the surrounding community but meeting with skepticism from some locals who fear that the development could become a revenue-creating “island” with no spillover revenue for local businesses.

On Oct. 20, Elmont business owners were shown renderings of a preliminary development plan for a casino at the racetrack by Detroit-based casino developer Michael Malik, who also answered several questions about the plan.

Malik, a partner of the Shinnecock tribe and financial backer of its casino plan — which gained momentum when County Executive Ed Mangano announced an Economic Development and Job Creation Plan in May — was the guest speaker at the Elmont Chamber of Commerce’s regular meeting on Oct. 20 at King Umberto’s in Elmont. Michael McKeon, Lance Boldrey and John Waihee, associates of Malik’s, also attended the meeting.

The renderings, which were not allowed to be photographed, depicted a casino with a Victorian-style red brick fa├žade, floor-to-ceiling paneled windows and a copper-patina roof, located on the southwest side of Belmont — close to the Cross Island Parkway, to give patrons easier access — and a reconstructed racetrack structure with the same design. Malik described the collective design as “modernized with a historic feel.”

The drawings also included an irrigation system on the south side of the 430-acre park, beyond the main track, near the Floral Park border, an area that has been prone to flooding. The system would not only help resolve the flooding problem, Malik explained, but would also help keep the track and surrounding green dry. There would also be a VIP viewing area in the center of the main track.

The renderings also include a recreational area and private parking lot on the southern end of the park, an indoor train station and a large central area for parading horses before and after races and showing off winning horses. The alley horses currently take into the park is hidden beneath the bleachers, and the winner’s circle is closer to track level, away from spectators’ view. “A parade of horses would be a focal point with this rendition,” Malik explained. “We want the world to focus on Belmont … we want people who are watching Belmont Stakes on television to want to come.” The building’s height, under the current plan, would be between 12 and 15 stories, he added.

When Chamber of Commerce President Chris Rosado asked Malik whether he thought the casino development might harm nearby businesses, Malik said that although he couldn’t say for sure, he believes that a casino would boost business, since it would be expected to create at least 5,000 jobs. “People are going to be eating and shopping here,” he explained.

Another question posed at the meeting was whether a plan recently proposed to reconstruct the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum at Belmont would affect the casino plan. Malik said that although the Coliseum-Belmont proposal threw him and his partners “for a loop,” he would be supportive of that plan as long as the community was.

“It could be an entertainment plus,” he said. “If I could have a 20,0000-seat arena, that could help us fill seats for the [casino theater] acts inside.”

Comments about this story? JNash@liherald.com or (516) 569-4000 ext. 214.

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