Opinion

Assemblyman Tom Alfano co-hosted a forum April 4 on Belmont, economic revitalization, creating jobs and the sports and tourism industries on Long Island. Representatives from sports organizations, unions, businesses and environmental organizations participated in the roundtable discussion aimed at crafting legislation to sustain and improve the sports and tourism tax base in Nassau County.

Assemblyman Tom Alfano talks about the Belmont project and revitalization efforts on Hempstead Turnpike that will help create jobs and expand the tax base.

The gathering of state leaders took place at the Nassau County Coliseum, the home of the New York Islanders and the proposed Lighthouse Project. Alfano, a supporter of the project, co-hosted the hearing with Assemblymembers Rob Walker, Tom McKevitt, Bob Barra, Joe Saladino and Fred Thiele. Assemblymembers Walker and Barra chaired the event.

"Belmont is a critical and important piece of the revitalization effort in the Hempstead Turnpike corridor. On one end, we have Belmont and the Elmont Coalition's vision plan and on the other, we have the New York Islanders and the Lighthouse Project. Both of these projects are critical to economic revitalization and job creation to our county," Assemblyman Tom Alfano said. "If we're going to cut taxes, we need to expand our economic base. These projects are a major part of Nassau County's future."

Assemblyman Rob Walker, ranking member of the Commerce on Tourism, Arts and Sports Development, added, "As legislators, we have the opportunity to speak with high-ranking officials and discuss ways to benefit our districts and communities. Today's discussion was focused on an issue that is on everyone's minds, the economy. During these troubling economic times, we want to be optimistic and use our resources to generate growth in the future."

During the Belmont portion of the roundtable discussion, Alfano discussed the proposed development plan and the economic impact it will have to Elmont and Nassau County. "It is inarguable. Belmont is underutilized and wasted in the state it is in now. Our plans for the walkable mall, restaurants, movie theater complex and hotel-spa are a great step in the right direction," Alfano said.

NYS Economic Development Corporation Regional Director Andrea Lohneis echoed Alfano's assessment and offered a comprehensive update of the plan. Alfano and Lohneis discussed the current feasibility studies and overview of the project. Alfano did express his disappointment that the governor did not put the VLT revenue in the state budget. "We can't be held hostage to Aqueduct and there needs to be a focus on fixing both tracks now. We can't wait and let more time go by. The time for talk is done. It's now time for action," Alfano noted.

"The community support for VLTs, the walkable mall and hotel is very clear," Lohneis noted. "We look forward to partnering with Assemblyman Alfano and all local officials as we move forward." Alfano stressed to the governor's staff during the roundtable that Elmont is very focused on this project and wants nothing less than a first-class hotel and retail development that is top shelf. The days of 99 cent stores and fast food are over.

Sports enthusiasts discussed expanding the use of the Coliseum for mixed martial arts, UFC, NCAA basketball and arena football. Marc Ratner of UFC, Derek Panza of WCA, Mixed Martial Arts teacher Laura Bell Doyle and NY Martial Arts magazine owner Jason Roske discussed economic development and job creation as a result of the MMA and UFC. Currently, MMA and UFC events generate multi-million dollar packages to localities in other states. Studies have shown local businesses have also benefited from the up and coming athletic outlet. Locally, there are over 30 martial arts small businesses and dozens of tournaments held in Nassau County.

"We have thousands of people who go to martial arts events like kickboxing and tournaments all the time in Nassau County. If we sanction the big events, a lot of money can be made for localities," Bell Doyle, who also owns a Fight Gear shop, said. Bell Doyle shared that just two weekends ago, the Marriott held a standing room only kickboxing exhibition on a Friday evening.

"We know the popularity of the sport and the economic impact. Why aren't we trying to be a part of it," Alfano asked. Assemblyman Walker added, "Clearly this is a sport that people travel to go to see. Why not have them go down the Turnpike and have it at the Coliseum?" Assemblyman Bob Barra noted, "Times change and these sports are fast, active and exciting- that's why people like to go to them."

Barra, ranking member of the Committee on Racing and Wagering, continued, "On Long Island, and especially in Nassau County, we are fortunate to have many sports outlets available to us. We must make sure we do all we can to retain businesses and make our area attractive to new establishments; expanding usage is critical to making this happen."

Assembly Bill A.2009A authorizes mixed martial arts in New York and establishes protocols for combative sports. It has been reported to the Assembly Tourism Committee but has yet to be brought to the floor for a vote. Marc Ratner, vice president for regulatory affairs of Ultimate Fighting Championship, participated in the discussion and provided the Assembly members with information about the sport and why legislation should be passed sanctioning such activities. Alfano, Walker, Barra, McKevitt, Thiele and Suffolk Assemblyman Steve Englebright are sponsors of the legislation.

The Lighthouse project was also a large part of the discussion. Mike Picker, president of the Lighthouse Project, gave a presentation of the project and took questions from the panel on the project's current status. Richard Guardino, vice president of business development at Hofstra University, discussed the university's strong support of the project and the positive economic benefits.

"I want to thank all of you for having this forum and having all the stakeholders around one table and discussing these economic issues. I know many of you have expertise on segments of these projects and Hofstra wants to partner with you to help make them a reality," Guardino said.


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