NEW YORK — Like everything else in 2020, COVID-19 has had an impact one way or another on everything. That includes UBS Arena, the New York Islanders’ new home slated to open in October 2021.
As construction continues on the $1.5 billion project at Belmont Park, attention has been turned to elements of the arena in a post-COVID world. They’ve taken steps to address air circulation inside the arena and reimagine how fans will get concessions.
“Absolutely we’ve had to put extra money into the building,” Oak View Group CEO and the arena project leader Tim Leiweke said Monday night during an interview during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. “Not just for sanitization, but for air purification and we’ve had to make changes as we’ve learned about the virus. We’ve learned how it will have a continuing impact on the industry long term.”
What the virus hasn’t changed is the excitement surrounding the opening of the arena at Belmont Park. That was on display on Monday as Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky showed off a taste of what UBS Arena will offer to a small group of invited guests at the Preview Club in Manhattan.
Ledecky watched Monday’s Eastern Conference Final from the Preview Club as he highlighted the finer points of what fans can expect when UBS opens in 2021, and expressed his excitement for a fanbase that has dealt with instability for far too long.
“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 in searching for a new home,” Ledecky said Monday night in Manhattan. “I’m very pleased for the fans and I’m happy with the fans reaction and I think what was great is the notion that we were able to have three different constituencies give us input in the arena.”
When the building opens it will boast the largest scoreboard, with high definition technology and two levels of high-resolution LED ribbon boards, a state of the art sound system, theatrical lighting and ice video projections.
UBS Arena was designed specifically with hockey in mind, as ownership took input directly from the fans and players. The Islanders will have a 23,000 square foot campus inside the arena, which was designed off meetings with players, coach Barry Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello.
Ledecky also spent plenty of time on game nights walking around Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center listening to the fans and taking in what they wanted in a new venue. High on that list was getting rid of the long concession and bathroom lines, but even higher was bringing the intimacy and feel of Nassau Coliseum to UBS Arena.
While Nassau Coliseum has never been renowned for its amenities, the sightlines and noise level are regarded as some of the best in the National Hockey League. “(UBS Arena is) going to be the loudest and most intimate arena in the National Hockey League still, which is what Alex Ovechkin told me was the coolest part of the Nassau Coliseum,” Ledecky said.
Part of what makes UBS Arena unique compared to some of the other new venues around the NHL and country is that the building was designed for the sport of hockey as well as music. The three major venues in New York, for instance, are either multipurpose venues or designed specifically with basketball in mind in the case of Barclays Center.
“In the case of hockey, we’ve made a lot of changes from what people are used to seeing in a typical arena,” We’ve shrunk the number of suites so there are only roughly 50 suites in the entire building. We don’t have a lot of breakage within the bowl itself. So it’s tight and it’s steep and it kind of sits on top of the ice to give it that Coliseum feel.
“There were a lot of architectural and design specifics requests and changes made to the way that this building was designed and it is being built in order to make it perfect for hockey. We weren’t trying to appease everything and everybody and that helps.”
UBS Arena can host basketball games, and with 150 dates a year to fill the emphasis was also put on concerts. Similarly to how Ledecky solicited input from players and fans, they talked to people in the music industry.
“Tim Leiweke brilliantly arranged for the group, the architects and us, to met with musical acts, their talent managers, their road agents, their road managers,” Ledecky said. “That was the first time that anybody built an arena design where they actually talked to the music folks.”
At the center of the room of the Preview Club, four replica Stanley Cups sit as an homage to the Islanders championship history. On the wall, Bill Smith’s stick is prominently displayed alongside Bill Torrey’s famed bowtie and Al Arbour’s blue and orange jacket.
While Ledecky wouldn’t give out specifics, the Islanders owner promise the history would be honored inside UBS Arena.
“We’re going to have sections and displays and memorabilia,” Ledecky said. “We’re going to be honoring not only the great alumni, but we’ll also be honoring the great fans. Stand by there’s going to be unique things in this building that take into account the rich heritage and history of the Islanders. Recognize the 550-plus alums who have put on the sweater and also recognize the great fans who have been supporting us.”
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