The idea of building a new Madison Square Garden was floated in recent years. Instead, MSG executives opted for a three-season overhaul to the World’s Most Famous Arena.
The first phase of the Transformation Project has just been completed to coincide with the start of the 2011-12 Rangers and Knicks, assuming there’s an end to the lockout.
FishbowlNY joined several in the media yesterday for a tour of the renovated arena with Madison Square Garden Company president and CEO Hank Ratner.
“A project like this has never been done, an actual arena being transformed,” Ratner says. “An arena [that’s] still hosting two professional sports teams and the busiest concert venue in the world.”
Work on the next two phases will go on during the season, but Ratner says not on game days.
Then, once the Rangers and Knicks seasons conclude, the Garden will, once again, turn the arena into a closed construction zone.
For now, though, fans will literally see some immediate changes. A new Lower Bowl viewing experience, offering better sightlines to the action with larger and more comfortable seats. Ratner says spectators will be closer to the event.
Just below the Arena Bowl are the newly created 20 Event Level Suites that include prime seating.
“You get the best seats in the building and get incredible hospitality space that really doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Ratner says.
The Knicks and Rangers have brand new locker rooms. Gone are the traditional rectangular structures. Now, there is a small scale model of the Garden, complete with the famed ceiling to treat the players. Ratner says each one is “similar in location.”
As for upgrading the visiting locker rooms, “the NBA made us,” Barry Watkins, MSG executive vice president of communications, laughs.
Fans can get a unique look at their favorite players. The new Delta Sky 360° Club is located just off the locker rooms, giving club members a chance to see athletes. The club also has exclusive dining options on the menu.
“It’s quite exciting what you can do when you use the same space that we had there before and you design it in 2008, as opposed to in the 1960s,” Ratner says. “[It’s] great space that we were able to create for our customers who asked us to create space like this.”
The club is open prior and during games to the 800 top Knicks and Rangers season ticket holders.
But enhancements were not made exclusively for those shelling out the biggest bucks to sit courtside or in a suite.
The 8th and 10th floor concourses now have several new food options and direct views into the arena.
But, perhaps the highlight of the entire project has to wait until the start of the 2013-14 season.
Two Chase-sponsored bridges will be suspended over the ice or hardwood, offering what Ratner calls a view that should not be missed.
“There will be no obstructions of the playing surface whatsoever,” Ratner says. “In fact, the bridges should enhance the people who are in the Upper Bowl because in the back of the bridges there will be monitors and ribbon boards.”
Ratner says tickets for the bridges “haven’t been priced yet.” He adds they will have a capacity of 1,000 people.
Back to today’s upgrades, Ratner is proudest of the 6th floor Madison Concourse.
The expanded area brings more outside views, additional restrooms, plus renovated concession stands featuring Signature Collection items. But that’s not all.
“Every monitor is centrally controlled,” Ratner says. “A channel for every TV set in the whole building can be changed, information can be displayed. Anything can be done with new state-of-the-art systems that exist today.”
After two concerts, the official transformation launch is next Thursday for a Rangers game.
“We’re delighted we are on time,” Ratner says. “We’re looking forward to people getting back to the building.”
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