ELMONT, N.Y. — When it comes to Arena projects like the one taking shape next to Belmont Park Race Track, UBS Arena Senior Vice President of Arena Operations and Assistant General Manager Michael Sciortino is a bit of an old pro at them.
Sciortino was at Madison Square Garden Company during the $1 billion renovations of the World’s Most Famous Arena in the mid-2000s and was Golden State Warriors VP of Operations during their move from the outdated Oracle Arena to Chase Center. So he’s been part of a project that had forced its anchor tenants to vacate their home for a long period of time and one that saw a team move from its longtime home following a deep run to a new, modern venue.
Both of which apply to the New York Islanders, who ended their time at their longtime home Nassau Coliseum in June after being knocked out of the playoffs in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. General manager and team president Lou Lamoriello confirmed in early July that he was expecting the team to start the season on a lengthy road trip while the finishing touches were put on UBS Arena.
The new arena is expected to open in November, which would be a little less than a month after the NHL is looking to start the 2021-22 season.
“That’s a conversation that started a long time ago,” Sciortino told NYI Hockey Now during a recent tour of the UBS Arena construction site. “There has been very good communication between the UBS Arena team and the Islanders on a very regular basis, even though the playoffs. And as the schedule is being built there is a lot of communication.”
The pace of construction is continuing as the project hits its home stretch and workers, and even UBS Arena officials, are walking into the worksite to new sights on a regular basis. For instance, on the day NYI Hockey Now visited the construction site the scoreboard had begun taking shape at center ice.
The new massive video board will be four times larger than the one at Nassau Coliseum and the LED displays totaling more than 15,000 square feet and more than 34 million pixels. The scoreboard was also touted as the largest in New York.
For those eagerly watching the center-hung scoreboard progress, we've started installing speaker arrays.
💬What are you most excited to see? pic.twitter.com/77Xo1Xf3CT
— UBS Arena (@UBSArena) July 12, 2021
Seats in the lower bowl continue to be added and signage outside the arena had been added, which Sciortino called an exciting milestone for those working on the project. The ice floor had already been poured on April 29 and they will begin to make “black ice” in late August or early September, where they won’t put any paint in it.
They will make a few sheets of ice and then break it down several times before the ice for the season is made and left in late in October.
What’s also added to the excitement for those working on UBS Arena’s construction had been the Islanders’ deep run into the postseason in their final year at the Coliseum.
“It adds a much more fun element, and also helps move the whole project along,” Sciortino said. “The workers get excited. It certainly doesn’t hurt sales. It’s really good for everyone, even though it ended in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals. That was a great run and a lot of fun for everyone.”
And Sciortino knows how to handle a project of this magnitude for a team that is coming off a successful playoff run. He had been working with the Warriors and on the Chase Center as they played their final season at Oracle Arena reaching the NBA Finals one last time at Golden State’s longtime home.
It’s similar to what the Islanders had gone through this season.
The experience with Chase Center also helped shape how Sciortino managed operations with UBS Arena. His biggest lesson had been to make sure people that people who were brought in weren’t learning on the job.
“That isn’t so bad when you’re a train already rolling down the tracks, but when you’re building it from scratch you need to hire people who know what the final end result looks like,” Sciortino said. “So they can get there without having to really learn on the job because there isn’t really much of an opportunity to learn on the job when you’re building it from scratch.
“Really just making definitive decisions quickly and hiring people who know what they’re doing is the short answer to lessons learned.”
He has also learned to be prepared for the issues that no one expects.
“I have some experience with understanding where things that need more attention (are),” Sciortino said. “We have that covered. Maybe I wouldn’t have said that 10 years ago. We learned some of those through the process. It’s the things that we don’t know about yet. There’s some gremlin in this building that just no one knows yet that is going to create some problem for us later. We just need to be prepared.”
While a global pandemic wasn’t a “gremlin in the building” it certainly was an unforeseen issue for the construction of UBS Arena. While things had to be halted briefly during 2020, the completion of the Islanders’ new home is as tangible as it has ever been.
A quick drive down the Cross Island Parkway or Hemstead Turnpike will take you past the arena, designed to match the aesthetic of famed Belmont Park next door as well as the iconic Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and Grand Central Terminal in New York City. And UBS Arena officials are quick to tout many of the arena’s amenities that will encompass the Isles’ new home.
From the sightlines that they have tried to model after the Coliseum to the large number of restrooms and the eight bars that have a full view of the ice, the Islanders have broken out all the stops for their fans in their new home.