Fresh off a planet-friendly overhaul of Seattle’s redeveloped Climate Pledge Arena (née the Key Arena and, before that, the Seattle Center Coliseum), the stadia specialists at Populous are back with another recently opened multipurpose sports and entertainment venue with a $1 billion dollar price tag and a National Hockey League (NHL) franchise as its main resident: Long Island’s UBS Arena.
Officially debuting November 20, the 745,000-square-foot UBS Arena hosted its first public concert this weekend with a sold-out Harry Styles show (if you’re wondering how many adult chaperones from across the New York metro region spent their long Thanksgiving weekends). And just ahead of the holiday for its public opening, the NHL’s New York Islanders played their first home game at the 17,250-seat (18,500 for concerts) venue against the Calgary Flames. They lost 5–2.
Differing from the Climate Pledge Arena, the completion of UBS Arena, which was also developed by Los Angeles-headquartered Oak View Group as part of a larger ownership group, marks the end of an extended period of twisty transience and uncertainty for its resident NHL team. Located at Belmont Park in Elmont near Nassau County’s border with Queens, UBS Arena effectively replaces the nearby Nassau Coliseum, which had served as the Islanders’ home from its opening in 1972 through 2015.
Following this, the franchise decamped to the SHoP Architects-designed Barclays Center in Brooklyn; the full-time move into New York City (but not technically off Long Island) proved to be a commercial failure and for the 2018–2020 home game schedule, the Islanders split their time between the Barclays Center and the Coliseum after the latter emerged from an expansive two-year renovation led by SHoP. (Both the Barclays Center and the redevelopment of the Coliseum were helmed by Forest City Ratner.) When still used by the Islanders, the Coliseum was one of the oldest active NHL stadiums, second only to Madison Square Garden. Although much inked has been spilled on the long and winding journey that has led the Islanders’ to their new—and so far, highly lauded—home at UBS Arena, this editorial provides a decent breakdown of the nearly 30-year saga.
Ground broke on UBS Arena in September 2019 and a 20-year naming rights deal with Switzerland-based global financial services firm UBS was secured in July 2020. Despite a two-month pause in construction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the venue opened on time. Working alongside New York Arena Partners (the aforementioned ownership group comprised of Oak View Group, the Islanders, and Sterling Project Development), Populous served as architect of record and oversaw the overall design of the built-from-scratch arena including its layout, seating bowl, event-level spaces, wayfinding, and all interior spaces, some in collaboration with Jump Studios, a Populous company, and Goodrich. Oakland, California-based JRDV Urban Architecture designed the arena’s exterior, which was inspired by a nostalgia-inducing hodgepodge of iconic New York landmarks past and present including Ebbets Field and Grand Central Terminal, while Thornton Tomasetti served as structural engineer. AECOM Hunt, in association with Barton Malow, was general contractor on the project.
“UBS Arena represents the future of the event venue industry and will be one of the top arenas for hockey and entertainment in the country,” said Populous principal Jason Carmello of the long-awaited new facility, which the firm has described as being set to be “one of the most operationally efficient venues in the world.”
“Populous worked thoughtfully with Oak View Group, the New York Islanders and the entire design team to deliver a first-class arena that is built for hockey, but will set a new standard as a must-play destination for all forms of touring entertainment,” Carmello added.
As mentioned by Carmello, UBS Arena was specifically built for hockey, and as touted in a Populous press release, the venue offers the best hockey-specific sightlines in the NHL; the shared vision between Oak View Group, Islanders ownership, and the design team was to “create a space meant for hockey, not adapted to it, as the Islanders’ previous homes were.”
Notable features of UBS Arena include the largest LED arena scoreboard in New York; acoustics aided in part by sound-absorbing baffles and the fact that the venue has upholstered, not hard plastic seating (Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams served as acoustic consultant); a 900-square-foot speakeasy tucked away off the main concourse along with 10 bars that face directly into the bowl so that spectators never risk missing any of the action on the ice while grabbing drinks, and an array of “upscaled” interior finishes throughout including “artisan white subway tile,” wood paneling and up-lighting encircling the main concourse, and “high-end light fixtures radiating theatrical lighting to promote a premium entertainment experience.”
Rounding out the key features and amenities are several dedicated fan areas, 38 suites perched above the main concourse, a quartet of event-level Crown suites, the Hyundai Club (an imbibing-centric “space decked out in Islanders swag while tastefully tying in Hyundai’s brand identity), and a ground-level sports bar accessible to non-ticket-holders dubbed Belmont Hall. Behind the scenes, Populous oversaw the design of a sumptuously appointed “star compound” for visiting artists complete with custom area rugs and wood and tile flooring as well as a 23,000-square-foot NHL home team locker room and player campus including treatment rooms, a full kitchen, lounges, offices, video rooms, and more. At 50,000 square feet, the arena’s loading dock area is the largest in New York and engineered for seamlessly loading in and out musical acts and other major productions.
For those looking to scope out Long Island’s new multitasking sports and entertainment hotspot in person, the Islanders will take the ice again on December 2 against the San Jose Sharks. Also on the calendar in the coming weeks are a slew of future home games as well as concerts (Tool, Genesis, Journey, John Mayer, and the list goes on) and the requisite monster truck rally and touring Disney ice show.