Wednesday, December 23, 2009

High Stakes At Belmont

Racetrack, Surrounding Community, Could Feel Pinch Of Money Crunch

We, at The Community Alliance blog, have often written about -- and pondered over, whimsically -- a renaissance for Elmont, the western gateway to Nassau County.

After all, as we've suggested, a blight on a tree in Elmont will, in due course, make its way to the flora of Wantagh.

And we've been "visioning" a sustainable Elmont -- as prelude to a more sustainable Long Island -- since the early days of this blog.

Always at the center of plans and proposals as would signal Elmont's rebirth -- and help the spread of redevelopment and reclamation move ever-eastward across Long Island -- was beautiful Belmont Park, home of thoroughbred racing's annual rite (that third leg of the Triple Crown), the Belmont Stakes.

Talk, from Albany to Mineola to Hempstead Town Hall, of recreating Belmont as a world-class facility, with video lottery terminals (VLTs) to spur economic growth, and even a hotel (one without hot sheets), has been aplenty.

The interconnection of Belmont with the Elmont community, and vice versa, is inexorable. The link, both historical and pervasive.

Talk is cheap -- relatively. Plans are just that -- plans. As we've opined before, for there to be a jewel in Elmont's claim to the Triple Crown, there must not only be a viable plan to revitalize and re-energize, there must also be summoned the courage and the wherewithal to take that plan to the streets.

Now, from the pages of Newsday, comes word that the folks who own and operate Belmont -- the New York Racing Association (NYRA) -- are seeing red ink, jeopardizing not only the 2010 Belmont Stakes, but the very future of Elmont as well.

If one envisions the future of Belmont Park sans the Belmont Stakes, one must, inevitably, conjure up a vision of Elmont without the presence and prestige of Belmont Park, a wellspring of communal life, with the potential for vast economic growth, along an otherwise bleak and dreary twenty miles of ugly.

Lest Belmont Park go the way of Jamaica Racetrack -- and with it, the misfortunes of the surrounding community -- the opportunity remains for Elmont to continue to rise from the ashes of decline and neglect.

If the Belmont Stakes is, indeed, the Test of Champions, then Elmonters (Elmontonians?) must see the challenge of reimagining Belmont, and the rebirth of Elmont proper, as the test of their own resolve.

Elmont residents must forge ahead with plans to rethink and redevelop Belmont Park, not only from the perspective of preserving both green space and a rich heritage that dates back to to the turn of the 20th century, but, more than this, to ensure the vibrancy and vitality of a thriving Elmont community for generations to come.
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From Newsday:

NYRA's financial woes could close Belmont


No Belmont Stakes in 2010?

"It's possible," said Charles Hayward, president of the New York Racing Association, if the state doesn't soon award a long-awaited video lottery terminal franchise at Aqueduct.

Falling attendance, uncollected debts, and the continuing delay in expected VLT payments have led the operator of the state's racing tracks at Aqueduct, Saratoga and Belmont to warn it could run out of cash for payroll before the third leg of racing's Triple Crown, scheduled for June 5.

NYRA might not open Belmont Park at all next year, Hayward warned Monday, if by April it still has neither the revenue stream from the franchise agreement nor a firm financial commitment from the state.

"We've got to feel confident we have enough cash to run through the third week in July," he said.

Gov. David A. Paterson and state legislative leaders have been unable so far to agree on a winner from among five bidders for the Aqueduct franchise. The racing association also is waiting for a total of $18.2 million owed by the insolvent New York City OTB, which is undergoing reorganization. The tracks have seen revenue decline by 8 to 9 percent annually, Hayward said, and Belmont has had to put in a costly new drainage system to prevent horse manure from fouling groundwater.

NYRA's franchise agreement binds the state to negotiate in good faith to support its operating, capital and pension expenses until VLT operations begin, Hayward said.

But a $30 million cushion the state provided NYRA will be down to about $11 million by year's end.

Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said talks are continuing with legislative leaders on the VLT franchise and that the state will "work closely with NYRA to navigate any potential fiscal difficulties." But, Hook said, "we are still awaiting final information from NYRA on their 2010 budget and cash-flow assumptions - something they have yet to provide."

State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), whose district includes Elmont, the site of Belmont Park, said NYRA's woes confirm his vote two years ago against putting it in charge of the race tracks. "NYRA just can't get the job done," he said.

Elmont's other state senator, Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), blamed Paterson and Democratic leaders for the lack of progress, calling Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) "an obstacle" to Belmont's development. Silver's office declined to comment.

1 comment:

  1. One of the biggest problems loss of revenue affecting racing is the management of OTB.

    How does the NY City OTB become insolvent and where did the money go? Did you ever hear of a Las Vegas casino going broke? This is not rocket science as OTB should have a built in profit.

    There are too many political cronies from both sides that make OTB inefficent and create revenue loss that could help these racetracks, instead the money is being used for political hacks salaries and cars. Why someone needs to have a company car to work at OTB is beyond me, who do they think they are school superintendents!

    Their needs to be a full audit of the NYSRA and OTB.