For the Islanders and their fans, the journey to find a new permanent home always seemed to be met with obstacles, potholes, ownership fiascos and political nightmares. It’s been a road that the franchise has on for the better part of three decades and that includes the failed “Lighthouse” project and Nassau County residents voting “No” on a referendum for a new arena next to Nassau Coliseum.
But the long and winding road for the franchise and its supporters will soon be over as UBS Arena at Belmont Park is set to open for the 2021-22 season. The $1.5 billion project is expected to generate $25 billion in economic activity including infrastructure improvements, 10,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs of which 30 percent of those jobs are ticketed for local residents.
At long last, the Islanders will have a new home and their fans will have another reason to scream “YES YES YES!!!”.
“I feel that the fans deserve a home after all these decades of needing a new home and all the different elements that were involved,” said Islanders Co-Owner Jon Ledecky Monday night as he watched game one of the Eastern Conference Final with staff and invited guests on a big screen at the “Preview Club” in Manhattan.
(More angles of UBS Arena model)
“I’m very pleased for the fans and happy with the fans’ reaction.”
The Preview Club is a space in the flatiron district of Manhattan that the arena team has built to show off what some of the suites, premium seats, and lounge areas will look like at UBS Arena.
The space includes a theatre that features the fabulous premium seats that fans can experience at the Islanders new home, an amazing model of the arena detailing the exterior look and the seating inside, and a vast collection of Islanders and music memorabilia that will be on display including Al Arbour’s jacket, sticks used by Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier, a mask worn by Billy Smith, a wall of hockey pucks, the Islanders’ four Stanley Cups and guitars used by famous musicians.
(Al Arbour’s jacket, Billy Smith’s mask, the Islanders 1983 Stanley Cup and Mike Bossy’s stick)
UBS Arena will have approximately fifty suites that will be complimented by lavish premium seating. The arena will have a state-of-the art sound system, the largest scoreboard in New York with industry leading high definition of technology and two levels of LED ribbon boards. The game presentation will include theatrical lighting, ice video projections, fast concession options and 5G cellular and Wi-Fi service that will be up to 50 times faster than current networks.
The building will be fan-friendly and that includes making it possible for all of Islanders Country to be able to experience Islanders hockey at UBS Arena. While the focus right now is on the sale of the suites and premium seating, the Islanders will announce ticket prices for the general seating in the arena in the coming weeks and there is going to be something for everyone.
“We have the Blue and Orange Army and we have a standing section for those who can’t make it into the Blue and Orange Army but want to stand at the games,” said Ledecky. “We listened. We’re very sensitive to that. I’m very sensitive to that. We have to understand as stewards of the franchise that it’s never been for us about maximizing the last dollar of revenue. We love the fans. The fans love the team. The team loves the fans. We want to make sure that building is rocking every night and packed.”
(Renderings and model of UBS Arena along with some more memorabilia including Clark Gillies’ Skates)
UBS Arena is being built for hockey. Islanders Hockey. But Mat Barzal skating end to end, Captain Anders Lee bumping bodies in front of the net, a Ryan Pulock blast from the point, a crunching check from Matt Martin, and stick saves from Semyon Varlamov, Thomas Greiss and Ilya Sorokin won’t be the only sights and sounds at the fabulous new arena. While it’s going to be the Islanders’ home, another focus in the design and construction of UBS Arena is music.
“It will be as equally focused on music as it will be on hockey,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group and leader of the arena project.
And besides hockey, there will also be other sports at UBS Arena including basketball.
“We don’t have to be a multi-sports building although we’ll be able to do basketball games and we’ll do basketball games,” said Leiweke. “We’re not going to have an anchor tenant that’s going to be a basketball team so we were uniquely focused on trying to appease two constituents, one is hockey and one is music.”
And with that focus on hockey and music comes a unique design for UBS Arena. The seating bowls of the arena are designed to not have a lot of “breakage” and that will make the seating tight and right on top of the ice to give it a feel of the Nassau Coliseum.
No obstructed views.
The scoreboard will hang over center ice.
The arena will be loud.
Yeah, I would say that certainly will feel and sound like “The Barn”!
“There were a lot of architectural and design specific requests and changes made to the way that this building was designed and is being built in order to make it perfect for hockey,” said Leiweke.
The UBS Arena project, which will also include 315,000 square feet of luxury retail as well as a 4-star boutique hotel that will have up to 250 rooms, is a joint partnership between the Islanders ownership, Oak View Group, and Sterling Project Development. The $1.5 billion project is 100% privately financed, but when it came to the design and the type of amenities that the arena should have, feedback was asked for, received, and welcomed from three very important constituencies.
Islanders fans, Islanders players/coaches/staff, and the music industry.
“First and foremost, the fans,” said Ledecky. “They wanted the intimacy of that Nassau Coliseum experience with the loudness and the bowl configuration. It’s going to be the loudest and the most intimate arena in the National Hockey League. They wanted prices that were affordable for them so we’ve listed to that.”
(Peter Schwartz and Islanders Co-Owner Jon Ledecky)
“We met with musical acts, their talent managers, their road agents, their road managers and that was the first time that anybody built an arena design where they actually talked to the music folks.”
“We also talked to the players and that’s not often done. They have a 23,000 square foot campus and we solicited in a series of meetings with players, Lou (Lamoriello), Barry (Trotz) about all the input that they wanted in a campus for the team.”
“Those three different elements have combined to make the UBS Arena a special place.”
Building an arena is not an easy thing to do as the Islanders certainly found out over the years and that was in a normal world. The groundbreaking for UBS Arena took place in September and construction was rolling along until the coronavirus pandemic arrived in March and flipped our world upside down. COVID-19 forced people to work from home, students to learn remotely, sports including the NHL season to be suspended and for construction projects to come to a halt.
Including at UBS Arena.
But once Governor Cuomo gave the green light for construction to resume, the work at Belmont Park went into high gear and the arena is expected to be “topped off” soon and ready for puck drop in October 2021.
And with the resumption of construction came some changes that will allow UBS Arena to be safe for everyone including fans in the post-pandemic world.
“Air circulation and air handling is one of the biggest concerns for any new arena now based on the virus,” said Leiweke. “We’ve taken extra steps on the way we’re going to ultimately do concession stands so we’re using technology to provide more of a grab and go concept so that its less of a transaction and less of a customer having to go a point of purchase and have an actual transaction with a cashier.”
Extra money has been allocated to prepare UBS Arena for it’s opening and how the new normal is going to look following the pandemic. A lot of thought was put into the convenience for the customer, air handling and circulation, sanitation and air purification, and how COVID-19 will impact the industry long term.
The Islanders certainly have the right partner in Oak View Group for the vision, construction, safety, and viability of UBS Arena.
“We are good at arenas,” said Leiweke. “We know how to design them, we know how to build them, we know how to finance them, we know how to sell them, and we really know how to operate them so there’s been a focus and a drive and an energy to get this one right including the timing.”
(Theatre with premium seats)
Before UBS Arena opens in the fall of 2021, the Islanders have have another focus and that is that they are one of four teams that are still playing hockey since the NHL resumed the season with qualifying round games at the start of August. After knocking off the Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, and Philadelphia Flyers, the Islanders are now battling the Tampa Bay Lightning the Eastern Conference Final and that is only helping to build the excitement and momentum to potentially bringing another banner or two and some more hardware to UBS Arena.
“We’re focused right now on the playoffs trying to reach the Stanley Cup Final,” said Ledecky. “We’re looking forward to opening up UBS Arena. I can tell you that there’s been a singular focus on where we are right now.”
For many years, the Islanders and their fans had hopes for a brand-new home that they could be proud of. There was plenty of optimism on several occasions, but that was generally followed by great disappointment. There were always rumors of the team possibly leaving Long Island as places like Kansas City and Quebec had interest in attracting a hockey team. After the late Charles Wang tried everything, he brought the team to Brooklyn but as we now know, the Barclays Center was just a rental.
The Islanders are going to have a world-class permanent home with a Long Island address and that place is UBS Arena.
No more arena issues.
No more rumors of the team leaving.
The New York Islanders are in the NHL’s Final Four, have amazing ownership and management, and they will have a brand-new home at UBS Arena.
This time, the arena story is real and spectacular.