New Supporters Join Push to Fund Belmont Park Improvements

A coalition pushing for approval of a state-backed bail plan for major improvements at the New York Racing Association’s Belmont Park announced the expansion of its membership Nov. 17 at the State Capitol in Albany.

The effort comes as New York Governor Kathy Hochul, recently elected to a full term as governor, pulls together her spending, revenue and bail provisions when her 2023 state budget plan is unveiled in January. .

We Are New York Racing, a coalition originally formed to counter criticism of the racing industry over equine safety and state subsidy issues, said Thursday it was adding members to its group at a time when she will push for bail clearance for an overhaul at Belmont.

The new members are the Business Council of New York State, which is a major lobbying force for a range of business interests on Capitol Hill, and the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Along with NYRA and the Business Council, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders were scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill Thursday for the Belmont Bonds 2023 lobbying campaign.

A failed NYRA bid during the 2022 state legislative session, which ended last June, to operate a state bonding program for $450 million in capital to help fund a Major overhaul at Belmont, including a new grandstand and sweeping track improvements. This is all part of a larger initiative that eventually calls for an end to races at Aqueduct Racecourse with NYRA Southern racing operations centered solely on Belmont.

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The NYRA unsuccessfully attempted to include the borrowing plan in this year’s state budget for the fiscal year that began April 1. Another bid was made in the final months of the 2022 session, but it also died when lawmakers ended their session in June. Proponents at the time said the effort needed more work, including answering questions from some reluctant lawmakers and state officials. They say lobbying has been ongoing since the end of the session, and they hope Hochul will include their idea in its next budget in 2023.

NYRA could achieve lower interest rates and a less cumbersome borrowing process if it can access the state bonding program; The NYRA says it will pay all borrowing costs.

There is still work to be done, including convincing Hochul, who this month won a landslide victory for a full term as governor, as well as finding a new Senate sponsor for the idea; the 2022 godmother, Senator Anna Kaplan, a Democrat from Nassau County, was defeated in November during her general election campaign.

If Hochul puts the plan in his budget, a separate Senate and Assembly bill would be, virtually, unnecessary. The unknown in the linkage push equation is how Long Island politics might shape the debate; Hochul, in his recent statewide election victory, lost Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, and his fellow Democrats were defeated in state legislative and congressional contests there- down. (Belmont is located in Nassau County.)

“Whether upstate or downstate, New York is horse racing country through and through,” said Heather Briccetti Mulligan, president and CEO of the Business Council of New York State. “The sport generates billions in economic activity, supports tens of thousands of jobs and contributes tens of millions of dollars in taxes. Upgrading Belmont Park will only increase the tremendous benefits that horse racing brings. to everyone from farmers upstate to strained workers on Long Island to hospitality workers in Saratoga, and we’re thrilled to help the coalition continue to advocate for this year in Albany.

The horse racing industry in New York, as elsewhere, has come under increasingly coordinated attack over equine safety issues, as well as what critics say have been overly generous government-funded benefits. state to help support things like scholarships and breeding funds.

The We Are New York Racing group, in addition to the NYRA, Standardbred organizations and trade groups, includes unions, banks, horse farms, OTB companies, restaurants and government interests in Saratoga Springs and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. He sought to publicize the economic importance of the horse racing industry in New York.

The coalition noted that Belmont Park has not seen major renovations since 1968. NYRA wants permission to essentially piggyback on government bond sales, giving it access to lower interest rates; The NYRA said it will be responsible for all debt service obligations of these borrowing plans.

“The modernization of Belmont Park is a transformational project that would establish one of the nation’s top sports and entertainment destinations, especially when paired with the new UBS Arena next door. NYRA appreciates the hard work and support of We Are New York Horse Racing coalition, whose members recognize the importance of a new Belmont Park to the future of Thoroughbred racing in New York and to the state’s economy as a whole,’ said NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said in a statement this morning.

“A reimagined Belmont would be the biggest and most significant new development the sport has seen in recent history and a massive construction project for New York State. The result would be a facility capable of hosting races year-round and pave the way for the return of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to New York, while creating thousands of jobs now and in the future,” the NYRA official added. .

“Belmont may be across the border in Nassau County, but here in Queens, we understand that the construction of a new, world-class Belmont Park will have an immense and positive impact on the region. downstate and across the state – and we’re proud to support that goal,” said Thomas J. Grech, President and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. “This project would not cost the taxpayers a penny, but it would unlock immense economic activity in Queens and Long Island. It’s a win-win situation for our communities.”

“Our coalition continues to grow because horse racing positively impacts every corner of New York State, from Batavia to Belmont. We created tremendous momentum at the start of this legislative session, and we must continue to push and make the modernization of Belmont a major budget priority in 2023,” said Jack Sterne, spokesperson for the We Are New York Horse Racing Coalition.

The coalition was created in September 2021 and today has more than 50 members.

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