New York Islanders and state officials gathered at the future home of the UBS Arena last Friday morning to watch as construction crews placed the highest beam atop the 885-square-foot facility.
“Today is a very, very special day,” Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling said at the topping-off ceremony. The health system — the largest in New York State — has partnered with the Islanders and lead developer Oak View Group to provide more community-based wellness programs and ensure people’s safety and well-being while inside the future live entertainment and sports venue.
“This is about hope,” he said. “This is about the future.”
Construction on the nearly $2 billion project was delayed by two months when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his “New York on Pause” order in March, but now, Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke said, the project is back on track to open next fall. He and Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky attributed that success to the hard work of the project’s 10,000 union workers.
“It’s because of each of you that we are able to reach this important milestone,” Ledecky told the workers on-site at the ceremony, with Leiweke adding that he “cannot believe what a phenomenal job you’ve done.”
Officials broke ground on the site last September, and they expect the roof to be two-thirds complete by the holiday season. From there, Leiweke said, crews could start working on the electricity and plumbing, and putting up drywall.
Crews have already begun installing the beams and stanchions for the stadium seats, and watched as the highest beam, signed by officials and union workers, was put in place on Oct. 9.
The facility is expected to open in time for the National Hockey League’s 2021-22 season, and will house a 17,000-seat arena for the Islanders hockey team, as well as 20,000 seats for concerts. There will also be 56 suites, private clubs and 2,000 premium seats.
Musical artists, many of whom postponed their 2020 tours, will also benefit from a two-way ramp that will accommodate eight trucks, one of which will be able to drive right onto the arena floor, for artists to easily unload their equipment. They will also be able to stay in a four-season presidential suite, complete with their own greenrooms and offices that will be only 15 steps from the stadium.
“They went out of their way to make sure we didn’t cut any corners,” Leiweke said of designer Populous at a webinar about the future of live sports and entertainment on Oct. 8, adding that UBS’ bathrooms “are nicer than most arenas.”
Oak View Group officials have also spent months looking into different sanitation technologies to implement at the new UBS Arena, and assembled a task force to discuss health and safety. They will also create new standards for health and safety at arenas that an independent agency would rate them on.
“Our job is to ultimately deal with the virus,” Leiweke said, noting that he had met with Dowling early on in the planning stage to discuss how they could safely open an arena during a pandemic, and Dowling informed him about the need for air-filtration systems.
The arena will now feature four massive air-pumping stations and technology that disinfects the air. It will also use ultraviolet lights to help disinfect surfaces and will feature outdoor spaces, and the grab-and-go technology that Amazon uses at its Amazon Go stores. Oak View Group was able to get that technology at its UBS Arena due to its naming rights agreement with Amazon for the Seattle Kraken’s new stadium.
“We’re working with the gold standard,” Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said. “We have to make sure a fan feels 1,000 percent safe when they enter the building.”
But the Oak View Group, the Islanders and Northwell Health are also making sure people in the community stay safe. They announced on Oct. 6 that, as part of the partnership, Northwell and the Islanders will create community programs focused on health, nutrition and physical activity. The partnership will also help Northwell expand its outreach efforts, Dowling said, and learn more about the community’s needs.
“It will be continuous learning,” Dowling said, with Leiweke adding that officials from the different organizations will learn more about the community’s needs before the first puck drops at the arena in 14 months.
A retail village included in the plans for the redevelopment project, however, may open a year later due to coronavirus delays, and the south platform of a new Elmont Long Island Rail Road station at the site will open around Nov. 1 of next year with the north platform — serving westbound trains — finished a year later. The station will include 5,500 parking spaces, with 150 reserved for commuter parking.
“We will be fine, and we will get through this,” Leiweke said at another panel discussion about the construction project on Oct. 8. “I’m not going to let a temporary virus affect what we’re doing here.”
The project is being privately funded, Leiweke said, and is expected to provide a significant boost to the regional economy, at a time when economic activity has slowed because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is expected to generate roughly $25 billion in economic activity over the term of its lease, and developers have vowed to fill 30 percent of the arena’s permanent jobs with workers who live in the surrounding area.
Additionally, 30 percent of contracting dollars for construction was earmarked for state-certified minority- and female-owned businesses, and 6 percent was earmarked for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses.
“If you don’t think New York is going to return, you are blind to what’s going on around us today,” Leiwekee said at the ceremony on Friday. “To all of those that doubt New York, come visit us at UBS.”
For more information about the arena, visit www.UBSArena.com.