UBS Arena, on schedule to open its doors this fall, is a state-of-the-art facility that will be armed with modern marvels like high-tech air filtration and contactless payments for guests, but the building itself is much more rooted in another era.
The brick exterior and archway windows are a direct nod to its neighbor at Belmont Park, while the primary entryway leading into the main concourse will mimic the look and feel of Grand Central Station.
“We designed it to fit into the historic façade of the Belmont Racetrack,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, which is overseeing the building’s construction. “We wanted to honor the history and tradition of Belmont Park…you’ll see throughout the whole building a very design-oriented feel to the last 100 years of culture and entertainment in New York.”
But above all, Leiweke, with plenty of hockey roots as the former Kings governor, sees UBS Arena as a love letter to Islanders fans who have been consistently uprooted over the last three decades.
“These fans and these players have gone 30 years in the desert without a home,” Leiweke said. “They’ve gone longer than any fanbase in the NHL. They deserve a permanent home, and they deserve a permanent home that is the best NHL rink in this city. I’m not speaking poorly of any other arena, because I love arenas. But this was built for the Islanders fans to reward them for 30 years of patience.”
Islanders fans watched their team move from Nassau Coliseum to the Barclays Center in 2015, then back to the Coliseum in 2018. But come next year, they will have a new, 17,000-plus capacity arena with a budget of $1 billion, a stable home for a team that has been looking for one for years.
“It’s hard for the fans when they had uncertainty, and they looked around and saw other arenas being built, and they couldn’t find a home,” Leiweke said. “Then they went to a home that, quite frankly, didn’t work for hockey. So this is a beautiful vision and a moment for them.”
The home itself will have plenty of amenities. There will be 5,500 parking spaces on site, multiple terraces that provide a view of Belmont Park, and a 1920s-esque main hall with a Grand Central staircase leading to the main concourse. The hanging scoreboard at center ice, which has yet to be installed, will be rounded and 42 square feet with screens at the bottom. Leiweke is confident that there are no seats in the arena with any kind of obstructed view.
The construction of the building, with a low roof and a larger, steeper lower level, was designed to hold noise and create a raucous atmosphere that the Islanders plan to have at full capacity by the time UBS Arena opens its doors in November.
The team has nearly sold out of season tickets and premium tickets for next season, anticipates selling all of its sponsorships by the start of next season, and expects new nearby train stations and a passionate fanbase will result in packed houses come next season.
“As life has gone on, some people questioned our judgement on building another arena in New York City,” Leiweke said. “But Long Island and the population base we will serve is about 10 million people. If we were a standalone community here in Long Island, we would be the fifth-largest city in the United States. That not only plays well for the Islanders and music, that plays well for other sports.”
The main function of the arena will be for hockey and musical events (tickets to see Eric Church go on sale next month), but the arena will also be used for other sporting events; some plans already in the works, as Jon Rothstein reported that St. John’s is finalizing plans to be part of the first-ever college basketball game in the arena.
“We will be in the college basketball business,” Leiweke said. “We are already talking to teams, I heard one team say yesterday they are playing their games here, which is great…we’ll bid on NCAA events, because we’ll have a calendar that allows us to do that…UFC will be something important to us….but at the core, the dates, the design and function of this building starts as Islanders and music.”
Leiweke estimates that the arena is 75 percent complete. The structure is completed and the roof is finished, but the interior will be the main focus in the coming months, starting as early as next week when the concrete for the ice surface will be poured. It will be on that concrete that the Islanders hope to compete for a Stanley Cup next June, which would make for a busy couple weeks at Belmont Park, as the Belmont Stakes and Stanley Cup Final both typically take place in early June.
But first, Leiweke looks forward to the first-ever Islanders game at what he hopes will be the stable home the team has craved.
“It has to be right,” Leiweke said. “It has to be something that lasts 50 years. That’s one of the high priorities for us. This has to be something that’s not just the best arena built in this marketplace for hockey, but it has to last the test of time.”
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1