NYRA secures New York State approval to construct a new Belmont Park
by Pat McKenna
New York State’s FY 2024 budget, which was signed into law by New York Governor Kathy Hochul in May, authorizes the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) to utilize a $455 million loan to build new thoroughbred racing facilities at Belmont Park.
With state approval secured, NYRA will embark on the most significant racetrack construction projects in modern memory, all at no cost to taxpayers. The centerpiece of the re-imagined Belmont Park will be a new building that will completely replace the existing grandstand and clubhouse.
NYRA is committed to working with organized labor to construct a building that properly reflects the evolution of thoroughbred racing and wagering since Belmont was last renovated in 1968. Accordingly, NYRA will replace the existing 1.25 million sq foot structure with a roughly 275,000 sq ft facility featuring the modern amenities and hospitality offerings fans now expect from major sports and entertainment venues.
“The transformation of Belmont Park will secure the future of thoroughbred racing in New York State, create thousands of good jobs and drive tourism to Long Island and the region for decades to come,” said NYRA President & CEO David O’Rourke. “We thank Gov. Hochul and our legislative leaders for recognizing the importance of this project to the countless New York families and small businesses reliant on a strong horse racing economy.”
NYRA commends Senator Joe Addabbo and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow for their collective efforts to advance this project as chairs of the Senate and Assembly Committees on Racing, Wagering and Gaming. NYRA thanks Senator Leroy Comrie and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages for supporting and advocating for a new Belmont Park throughout this process.
The new Belmont grandstand will dramatically increase the amount of parkland available to fans throughout the year by expanding the current Belmont backyard. And because of the vehicular and pedestrian tunnels that will soon allow access to the 45-acre Belmont infield for the first time, the new Belmont Park will provide fans and the surrounding community with more open space than ever before.
“NYRA is committed to building a world-class venue that honors the history and traditions of this iconic property within a modernized overall facility,” added O’Rourke. “We will deliver a revitalized Belmont Park that will reclaim its place as a global capital of thoroughbred horse racing.”
Beyond these fan-facing improvements to Belmont, NYRA will expand its ongoing campaign to modernize backstretch housing and barn area facilities throughout the property — and build more new housing than at any point in the organization’s history. In recent years, NYRA has completed two new dormitories at Belmont while successfully renovating dozens of residential cottages and buildings. In the fall of 2023, NYRA will break ground on a third new dormitory to support the backstretch community living and working at Belmont.
According to an analysis performed by HR&A Advisors, the multi-year project to build a new Belmont Park will generate $1 billion in construction-related economic impact and create 3,700 construction-related jobs. Upon completion of the project, additional racing and non-racing activities at the new Belmont Park will generate $155 million in annual economic output, support 740 new full-time jobs, and produce $10 million in new state and local tax revenue per year.
The addition of a winterized building paired with new racing surfaces and a synthetic track will result in a facility suitable to host thoroughbred racing on a year-round basis. When complete, the redevelopment will allow NYRA to consolidate all downstate racing and training activities at the new Belmont Park, unlocking 110 acres of New York State-owned land at Aqueduct Racetrack for development opportunities. Located adjacent to JFK Airport and on a major public transit line, the Aqueduct parcel was recently appraised at a value of $1 billion.
A new and re-imagined Belmont Park will guarantee the return of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to New York after a lengthy absence. In November, the Breeders’ Cup announced its commitment to add Belmont to the rotation of host venues following NYRA’s modernization of the facility. Despite the prominent role played in the year-end championships by New York based trainers, jockeys, and owners, the Breeders’ Cup has not been held at Belmont since 2005 due to the facility’s aging infrastructure and lack of winterized hospitality options.
The 2022 Breeders' Cup World Championships, which were conducted at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, generated record breaking all-sources wagering handle of $189 million and attracted 85,000 racing fans over the course of two days. According to a study by University of Louisville Economics Professor Thomas E. Lambert, Ph.D, the 2022 Breeders’ Cup generated total economic impact of nearly $82 million.
Over the course of the last year and a half, NYRA has conducted dozens of in-person and virtual meetings with area residents and local leaders to provide information and answer questions about the project. NYRA has also continuously solicited feedback from individuals and groups who represent the interests of the neighboring towns and villages. This dialogue will continue through listening sessions, town hall meetings and community planning workshops in the months ahead.
Belmont Park was last renovated in 1968. It is the home of the Belmont Stakes, the final jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown. An American tradition inaugurated in 1867 at Jerome Park Racetrack and moved in 1905 to its now familiar home at Belmont Park, the Belmont Stakes has provided fans with some of the most exciting moments in sports history. From Secretariat’s spellbinding 31-length victory in 1973 to American Pharoah successfully ending a 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015, the Belmont Stakes is a revered annual event that captures the attention of the sports world.
For information about Belmont Park, and the 2023 spring/summer meet, please visit NYRA.com/BelmontPark.
About the New York Racing Association (NYRA)
The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) holds the exclusive franchise to conduct thoroughbred racing at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. NYRA tracks are the cornerstone of New York State's horse racing economy, which is responsible for 19,000 jobs and more than $3 billion in annual statewide impact.