Any Islanders fan that has been following the progress of construction of UBS Arena at Belmont Park has to be excited at what they’re seeing. The reality is that after years and years of arena drama, the team is finally going to have a new home of their own on Long Island. The team has maintained that despite a temporary halt to construction during the pandemic that the Islanders’ highly anticipated new home will be ready for the 2021-22 National Hockey League season.
A look at the live camera inside UBS Arena website shows that the lower bowl is now in place while the outside camera shows the continued progress of the amazing exterior of the building. But there’s still a lot of work to do between now and the drop of the first puck this coming fall.
Is there any reason to be concerned?
“It’s real,” said Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello during the UBS “State of Play” virtual event on Tuesday. “It will be ready for the coming season and it’s going to be state-of-the-art.”
The $1.5 billion project, a partnership between the Islanders, Sterling Project Development, and Oak View Group, will give the Isles their long-awaited new home and will also include surrounding redevelopment at the Belmont Park site. The arena will have a seating capacity of 17,113 for hockey and will hold 18,853 for concerts.
Islanders Fans And Concert Goers Will Enjoy UBS Arena:
The chants of “YES YES YES” from Islanders Country will begin this fall. We don’t know what the first event will be at UBS Arena although if I was a betting man, I would wager a few bucks that it will be a piano player from Long Island. We do know that the first concert that has been announced is “The Weeknd” who will take the UBS Arena stage on April 7th, 2022.
It sure looks and sounds like UBS Arena is going to be a great venue for the Islanders as well as musicians.
“It’s built for hockey (and) built for music,” said Lamoriello. “It’s going to be something special. It’s something to look forward to. There’s nothing like looking forward to something. I think that’s so important to have something at the end that you feel that all the effort and time you’re putting in, there’s going to a little bit of a reward.”
It’s Been Quite An Odyssey For The Islanders To Get To UBS Arena;
The Islanders’ arena saga has been well documented, but here’s a recap of the long and winding road that the team has taken to get to UBS Arena…
- In 1997, John Pickett sold the team to New York Sports Venues, a group that didn’t waste much time making it clear that the Islanders needed a new home to replace Nassau Coliseum. “We need a brand-new arena,” NYSV President David Seldin told the New York Times in September of 1998 after the group filed a lawsuit in Federal court claiming that the conditions at the Coliseum were so unsafe that the team no longer play there. “To survive, we’ve got to attract more fans and that means not only better players but a state-of-the-art facility.”
- Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta called the Islanders’ owners “pigs at the trough” but in January of 1999, there was some progress reported on plans for a new sports complex. That never materialized and New York Sports Ventures would eventually sell the Islanders to Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar in 2000 with Wang buying out Kumar in 2004. Wang, who passed away in 2018, made two attempts to secure a new home for the Islanders on Long Island.
- In 2006, Wang proposed “The Lighthouse” project that would have transformed the Coliseum into a state-of-the-art arena while also re-developing the surrounding land. After years of back-and-forth discussions with local politicians, the project died in 2010. On August 1st 2011, there was a referendum held for Nassau County residents to determine if taxpayer money would be used to build a new arena for the Islanders next to Nassau Coliseum. The referendum did not pass and Wang seemed to have exhausted all of his options on Long Island.
- “I’m a free agent,” he told me when my family and I saw him at an Islanders Children’s Foundation event at Adventureland in Farmingdale in September 2011.
- In 2012, Wang announced that he was moving the team to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season and that the lease was “iron-clad”. What we didn’t know then that we know now is that there was a point in time when Wang was given a tour of the Belmont Park site in the event that a move back to Long Island to a new arena was possible.
- In 2014, Wang reached an agreement to sell the team to a group led by Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky. Wang remained the majority owner for the team’s final season at Nassau Coliseum in 2014-15 and the first season in Brooklyn in 2015-16. The Malkin/Ledecky group took over majority ownership for the 2016-17 season. We know now that Wang suggested that the new owners take a look at Belmont Park as a potential site for a new arena.
- In 2017, the Islanders won the rights to build an arena, hotel and retail village at Belmont Park. In 2018, the Islanders made a part-time return to Nassau Coliseum to jump-start their eventual permanent return to Long Island. On September 23rd, 2019, the groundbreaking was held for the Islanders’ new arena at Belmont Park.
- On February 29th, 2020, it was announced that the Islanders would play all of their 2020-21 home games at Nassau Coliseum. As a result of the pandemic, the Islanders’ final game at Barclays Center took place on March 3rd, 2020.
The Islanders’ Arena Saga Has Actually Helped Them Through The Pandemic:
For the Islanders, the journey to UBS Arena certainly had its fair share of drama, politics and bumps in the road, but perhaps that experience helped the team get through the challenges of the pandemic which included a run in the bubble to last season’s Eastern Conference Final and starting this season without fans at Nassau Coliseum.
“The team has been bouncing around for a while and maybe in retrospect that has helped us through this pandemic because we’ve had to do things that are out of the ordinary,” said Lamoriello.
“Whether its families going at different times to the Barclays Center when we had a game there or now, we’re home, so to speak, at the Coliseum and yet we had to change a lot of different dates when we made that decision to come to the Coliseum.”
Islanders fans were hoping for a second chance to say goodbye to Nassau Coliseum, but because of New York State protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, the season began with tarps over many of the lower bowl seats while other seats were occupied by cardboard cutouts. However, new guidelines from New York State now allow arenas and stadiums to be open to ten percent of capacity. On March 11th, the Islanders will welcome 1,000 frontline healthcare workers as their guests and then starting on March 18th, approximately 1,400 fans will be able to attend each game.
“Playing without fans is very difficult,” said Lamoriello. “I know the players are ready to embrace (the return of fans). There’s nothing like a player making a big play and the crowd getting excited…the adrenaline flowing. It helps everyone. That’s why you say the 6th man in hockey is a crowd. It’s real. Without them, there is no advantage.”
And with the vaccine rollout ramping up, the hope is that the pandemic will soon be in our rear-view mirror. For the Islanders and their fans, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with UBS Arena on the horizon and the hope that a full house can be on hand for opening night this fall.
The end of that tunnel will mark the close of a journey that will have Islanders Country, to steal a line from “The Wizard of Oz”, saying “there’s no place like home.”