For the Islanders, the search for a permanent new home on Long Island to replace the Nassau Coliseum has been a thirty-year journey. Over the course of those thirty years, the Islanders went through four ownership changes, the failed “Lighthouse” project that would have transformed the Nassau Coliseum into a new arena, Nassau County residents voting no on a referendum for a new arena that would have been built next to the Coliseum, a move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn with an “iron-clad” 25-year lease, and ultimately a return to a renovated but downsized Nassau Coliseum.
But that return to “The Barn” came at a time when the Islanders and their partners were awarded development rights on the Belmont Park site to build a new home and that new palace will become a reality this fall with the opening of UBS Arena.
“These fans and these players have gone thirty years in the desert without a home,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group during a media tour of UBS Arena on Thursday. “They’ve gone longer than any fan base in the National Hockey League. They deserve a permanent home and they deserve a permanent home that is the best NHL rink in this city.”
OVG is partnering with the Islanders and Sterling Project Development on UBS Arena as well as the surrounding development including retail space. While Leiweke is leading the planning and construction of UBS Arena, Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello has certainly put more than his two cents into the project from a hockey standpoint. Lamoriello has led the charge in terms of UBS Arena’s ice, air flow, building capacity, chilling plants and the design of the Islanders’ locker room.
And Lou has also taken input from Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz.
“They’ve helped design the entire building and the entire back of house,” said Leiweke. “Lou was very involved in the locker rooms. It’s a mirror-image of our Northwell Health (Ice Center) facility and the locker rooms here have a lot of similarities because Lou felt that was important.”
Lamoriello also requested that a compound for the Islanders’ wives and significant others be added as well as a children’s room. Combined with OVG’s expertise of building arenas and the experience of Islanders owner Scott Malkin in customer service, UBS Arena is being built to provide the very best for the Islanders players and fans.
The fan experience is going to be second to none when it comes to sightlines, acoustics, amenities, food and drink options, as well as the massive team store that is being built on the main concourse above the grand entrance to the arena.
“This was built for the Islanders fans to reward them for thirty years’ worth of patience and there is no one better at trying to protect the best interests of Islanders fans and the way this building is going to be designed and operated than Lou Lamoriello,” said Leiweke.”
It should not be a surprise that Leiweke and Lamoriello are working together on the UBS Arena project. Leiweke describes Lou as “professionally, the closest person I have in the industry” and their friendship dates back long before the plans were drawn up for UBS Arena and the shovel went in the ground to begin construction.
Lamoriello spent 28 seasons as the General Manager of the New Jersey Devils leading the franchise to three Stanley Cup championships. The Devils also made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2001 but lost to the Colorado Avalanche. The Devils returned to the Stanley Final in 2012 and fell to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.
At that time, Leiweke was President and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, the company that owned the Kings.
“Lou and I had the great pleasure and privilege of competing against each other in 2012 in the Stanley Cup Final,” said Leiweke. “We had been long friends before that. We grew even closer and we have a bond between us. He is my best friend in the business and I’m very proud of the fact we are building this dream (UBS Arena) with Lou, for Lou and for those players. He’s here because of me and I’m here because of him.”
When UBS Arena opens up this fall, it’s going to be an exciting and emotional time for the Islanders as well as each and every fan in Islanders Country. It’s been a thirty-year odyssey to find a permanent home on Long Island to replace the Nassau Coliseum, a building that housed so many great memories. Those memories, along with the championship banners and retired numbers, will be make their way about nine miles west down Hempstead Turnpike to UBS Arena where the Islanders plan on creating even more memories.
To a certain extent, you could say it will be “The House That Lou and Tim Built”. The long-time friendship between Lou Lamoriello and Tim Leiweke is going to help make UBS Arena a very special place for the team and the fans. To this point, everything that Lamoriello has asked Leiweke for, specifically as it pertains to hockey, is being built within UBS Arena.
But there was one thing that Lou and Barry Trotz asked for that Leiweke just couldn’t make happen.
“To be able to tilt the ice during intermission,” joked Leiweke. “That wasn’t going to work.”
That’s okay. The 17,000 members of Islanders Country on hand every night will do their part in creating UBS Arena’s home-ice advantage. They’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity to become a reality.