In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Elmont Road Park was the center of the community. Residents of all ages gathered to play at the park’s sports facilities and playground, but as the years passed, the park fell into disrepair because the Town of Hempstead ignored residents’ pleas for routine maintenance.
Now the park has missing swings, cracked pavement on its basketball courts and collapsed fencing, and the back field is soggy like a marsh and overgrown with vegetation. All of that, however, could change, because New York Arena Partners, the company developing the new Islanders’ arena at Belmont, has agreed to renovate Elmont Road Park as part of its proposed deal to redevelop Belmont Park. Its proposal is pending approval of its environmental impact statement and site plan.
“There was originally going to be a park at Belmont,” said Holly Leicht, of Empire State Development, which is working with Arena Partners on the Belmont redevelopment project. “But when we met with local officials in the Belmont Community Advisory Committee, they told us Belmont might not be the best location for a community park, and they pointed to this park in the middle of town that could use some love.”
ESD officials and local residents gathered at Elmont Memorial High School on April 6 for a workshop to develop ideas on how best to renovate Elmont Road Park to make it safe for and accessible to local residents. Residents’ ideas and concerns will now be relayed to Arena Partners officials.
A field of our own
Jon Johnson, president of the Elmont Cardinals Sports Club and a member of the Belmont Community Advisory Committee, said he has become increasingly frustrated over the state of Elmont Road Park. Johnson’s football team practices there, but games are impossible there because of poor field conditions.
The back field, which routinely floods, was once home to a baseball diamond, but the mound and fencing were removed years ago and never replaced. Johnson explained that once his team lost that baseball field, it no longer had any proper local fields to call its own, leaving the Cardinals to play in Queens and Valley Stream.
“We need multipurpose fields for our kids to play football, soccer, lacrosse and baseball,” Johnson said. “And they need to be able to utilize it year round, not just when it doesn’t rain.”
Mattson Kokura, another lifelong Elmont resident who serves on the Belmont Community Advisory Committee, told ESD officials that residents avoid using Elmont Road Park because of its condition and size. Kokura, who lives within walking distance of the park, as well as other residents, advised ESD to include the neighboring Dutch Broadway Park in the renovations. Although it has multiple fields, it is known locally as “Lake Elmont” because it regularly floods.
Kokura said that real renovations to Elmont’s parks would save people the trouble of going elsewhere. His own family goes Hempstead Lake State Park, even though they live within walking distance of Elmont Road Park. While ESD officials said that Dutch Broadway Park is not now included in the arena deal as of now, there is a chance that renovations could happen there as well.
“We’re allowing them to come into our town and build the arena, so we should be able to get as much as we can,” Kokura said. “These renovations are for our future generations to enjoy here and not some other town. This will be our legacy for the kids.”
Fix the trail
Elmont Road Park once had a trail that covered its perimeter, on which families walked together and interacted with friends and neighbors throughout the park. Now residents want to see it restored as part of the planned renovations. Michael Jaime, president of the Elmont School District Board of Education, and local resident Tiffany Capers both said improved walking and biking paths around the park would allow children and older adults to exercise and mingle with neighbors.
Elmont Memorial High School junior Darrien Nicholson told developers that they needed to invest in proper security features at the park. Nicholson said few local residents actually use the park, so it has become a hotspot for drug deals and other “shady activity.”
“Security should be our top priority,” Nicholson said. “We need to have more cameras and someone who actually monitors them. Right now there are only two security cameras, and they just record. There’s no monitor. No one is actually watching what’s going on here.”
Residents believed additional lighting at night throughout the park would help ward off illegal activities and restore the public’s confidence to send their children to the park.
Returning the public space as a family destination is the chief goal of the park redevelopment project, said Leicht, who was one of the ESD officials running the workshop session.
Once the Belmont arena project is approved for construction, the developers said they plan to hire a designer to draw up blueprints for a new Elmont Road Park. After the final design’s approval, they would close the park, likely before the end of the year, to renovate it.
Town of Hempstead Deputy Chief of Staff Rebecca Sinclair said a new drainage system for the fields must be installed first. Town officials had previously set aside about $500,000 to renovate Elmont Road Park, but Sinclair said that such a budget would cover only smaller repairs, while New York Arena Developers planned to invest millions of dollars in the park.
Town officials also said they plan to work with Nassau County officials to find temporary fields for local teams and community groups to use while renovations are being completed at Elmont Road Park. Developers hope to open the new park by 2021, around the same time that the ribbon should be cut on the Islanders’ new arena in Belmont.