On Monday, the Empire State Development Corporation and state Racing and Wagering Board released a study exploring the possible development of two parcels of land adjacent the famed Belmont Park racetrack in Elmont. What was odd, however, was not the contents of the study, which suggested developing some combination of a “racino,” hotel, retail, and senior housing on the parcels. No, it was the very existence of the study that was unusual, as Mark Strauss, the FXFowle principal who developed the study explained.
“It’s funny,” Strauss said in a phone interview yesterday. “I have to say, they used to do this all the time. But when Pataki became governor and Gargano was in charge, they would just go out to the developers and ask them what they wanted to do. There was very little community input.” He was referring to former Republican governor George Pataki and his ESDC chairman.
Strauss credits the new ESDC president, Marisa Lago, for the change. “She’s somebody who really has a history in planning, from her time at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and I think she really brings some fresh perspective to the ESDC.” Lago worked for the City of Boston and the authority in the 1980s and 1990s before joining M&T Bank as their chief compliance officer, the last job she held before coming to ESDC.
An ESDC spokesperson declined to say whether this would indeed be a new model for development at the agency or whether there were unique circumstances at the Belmont site that led to the consensus building efforts that were at the heart of the study. Still, Strauss said he hopes that is the case, especially because it can be the key to success for projects during these economically troubled times.
In addition to holding meetings with the community and various stakeholders, as was the case in the pre-Gargano days, Strauss said the planning committee reached out to 15 different developers to gain consensus on what could be built in this economy. Given the track’s proximity to the LIRR and major highways, “destination” developments were the focus.
This meant a mix of retail and hotel uses across a spectrum of sizes, as well as the possibility of a racino—essentially a video casino tied to the adjacent track. Half-a-dozen combinations of large and small hotel and casino were proposed for an 8-acre lot next to the track, while a southern 28-acre lot was proposed to hold either big box retails or possibly even senior housing, which were a major concern for the community.
“Belmont Park is an enormous asset for economic development in New York. I commend all of the participants for their thoughtful analysis and commitment to the Belmont Park redevelopment study recommendations,” Governor David Paterson said in a statement Monday. “In these times of fiscal crisis, it’s important that we move forward with projects like Belmont, which can create new jobs, generate additional tax revenue and bolster economic development in the surrounding communities in Nassau and Queens Counties.”
The next step is further analysis and the release of an RFQ or RFP. “It’s all about repositioning,” Strauss said. “I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more small-r redevelopment and a lot less of the big-d development investments.