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Rally calls on state to back stadium

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

This article first appeared in Newsday.


More than 150 union members, business owners and civic activists rallied Tuesday at Belmont Park to urge the state to end more than three years of inaction and support a plan to build a 25,000-seat soccer stadium, hotel and retail center at the state-owned property in Elmont.

In February 2013, the New York Cosmos soccer team and three other firms, which have each proposed retail and recreation complexes, submitted bids to the Empire State Development Corp., the state’s primary economic development agency, to build at Belmont. The agency has yet to select a winner.

The Cosmos want to spend $400 million in private funds to build a stadium, 175-room hotel, nine restaurants, a community center, retail complex, movie theater and public park on a 28-acre parcel on the southeast corner of Hempstead Turnpike and the Cross Island Parkway.

“This will be a destination 365 days a year,” said Erik Stover, chief operating officer of the Cosmos. “If we do this here, there will be more jobs. And more jobs mean more housing in the community.”

Stover previously said the Cosmos were considering alternative locations across the region for the stadium if the state did not make a decision soon. But after state officials re-engaged with bidders last year, Stover said he is focused exclusively on Belmont and expects a decision soon.

The Cosmos currently play home games at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.

Union members, who held a similar rally at Belmont last October, carried signs Tuesday reading “We Want Answers” and “Elmont Needs Good Jobs.” The Cosmos say the project would create more than 500 construction jobs and more than 3,000 permanent positions.

“It’s time for the governor and the Empire State Development Corporation to get off the dime, get this project going and get us to work,” said John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor.

ESD spokesman Jonah Bruno said the agency was “re-engaging respondents in order to obtain the best possible deal for the state.”

The three other bidders proposed privately funded complexes that include retail, restaurants, a supermarket and community space.

Critics of the project say the stadium will be an economic failure and a blight on the community.

“Sports stadiums don’t do anything for the community,” said Elmont community leader Tammie Williams, who wants the state to amend its request for proposals to include transit-oriented housing. “And a soccer stadium is not suitable for a suburban residential community.”

But Pat Nicolosi, president of the East End Civic Association, said the Cosmos project will “generate jobs, revenue and fun for the children and families.”