From the Desk of Leg. Solages

The BattleFor Belmont Park: Emerging Minority MiddleClass Community Demands The Right to Economic Self-Determination

The Battle for Belmont has begun, and hanging in the balance is the question of whether an emerging middle class minority community can assert its right to economic self-determination in the face of special interests, big money and calculated threats.

At the center of the conflict is the future of Belmont Park, a state-owned racetrack that has lost its audience and whose sprawling property requires redevelopment. Currently, New York State is entertaining several proposals including turning the site into a massive professional soccer stadium. A competing plan calls for neighborhood-focused development that includes a supermarket, retail shopping, community center, a park and similar amenities that the neighborhood supports. Notwithstanding thespecifics of alternative development,a far larger questionmust be answered before anything proceeds to fruition.What will enhance and strengthen the community of thousands of hardworking Elmont families seeking to protect and improve their quality of life?

This is not a debate for thecasual observer of Long Island politics or socio-economics. This is a debate for those truly invested in the day-to-day lives of the residentsin areas surrounding BelmontPark.In an era when big sports is about big profits and lucrative franchise deals, Elmont seeks to be something other than the gateway to a mega soccer stadium. The public relations blitz currently assaulting our neighborhoods touting the alleged benefits of a stadium fails to acknowledge the realitythat Elmont would receive minimal benefits from this kind of massive sports arena. A mega stadium wouldneither strengthen our real estate values, nor generate neighborhood economic growth in Elmont. A mega stadium would, however, generate enormous profits for the absentee investors who would enjoy millions from such a complex.

The special interests behind the stadium are seeking to intimidate the surrounding Belmont Park neighborhood on the assumption that a minority community has neither the resources nor the will to demand that it define its own future.

They assumed wrong.

On therainy Sunday afternoon of May 12, 2013,entire families who want development that will define Elmont as a proud and dynamic community joined me at a press conference to demand thatElmontnot be turned intoa roadsideattraction sitting at the entrance to a mega soccer stadium. These familieshave also signed petitions that will be sent to Albany where state officials will be compelled to hear the concerns of the surrounding neighborhood.

The Battle for Belmont Park will end up onthe desk of Governor Cuomo in the form of a mere piece of paper that may not be fully reflective of the heated debate going on in our community. Asthe Governorponders the merits of any proposal, he needs to know there is change afoot that is powerful and permanent. The Battlefor Belmonthas awakened the community’s collective voice to demand that it will be heard on how and where and why development takes place. Thisdebate isnot about some labor leader who lives in Suffolk, nor is it about some Park Avenue investor insisting that he wants a better rate of return on his stadium investment in Elmont.

No, this debate is aboutthose who live, work, and dream in Elmont.Those who are here on the ground know that Elmont desperately needsdevelopment. However,we want it on our terms and consistent with our ability to grow and nurture our neighborhood for generations to come.