Jon Ledecky was all smiles as he overlooked the observation deck near the recently-dedicated seat for veterans of war.
The New York Islanders owner has done what many others before him could not: Secure a long-term, state-of-the-art home for the hockey club while keeping them in Nassau County.
UBS Arena’s doors open to the NHL Saturday night, giving fans a first glimpse at the 18,000-seat, $1.1 billion venue that is strictly dedicated to the Islanders — something the franchise has not experienced since the opening of Nassau Coliseum 50 years ago.
The road to get this for the Islanders was arduous and plenty bumpy. Opposing politicians, the striking down of the Lighthouse Project, rumors of moving out of state (whether it be Oklahoma City, Kansas City, or Quebec), and even an ill-fated move to Brooklyn dotted the past two decades of uncertainty.
But that’s all firmly in the rearview mirror, though there was just one more little challenge of getting UBS Arena built during a pandemic after ground broke on the project in September of 2019.
All the more reason to celebrate the doors opening for Ledecky.
“The pandemic, all the different sacrifices that all of us had to make. For this to rise up and represent all that America and this area after the pandemic — what a great symbol of the resilience of New York, the resilience of the Metropolitan area, and the resilience of our fans,” Ledecky said. “I’m so excited that we can host the Islanders fans… where they can have a proper home to watch the team play. It’s been a long time coming and a lot of people tried.”
Ledecky, co-owner Scott Malkin, and Oakview Group CEO Tim Leiweke were not just able to keep the Islanders on Long Island, toeing the Nassau, Queens border at Belmont Park in Elmont, but they managed to blend in the Islanders’ history and the culture of New York.
An expanded arena features a ceiling that is only seven feet higher than that of the Nassau Coliseum to ensure that the intimate feel and deafening noise will be carried over to UBS Arena. Photos of glory days past adorn the walls, working intricately with designs that are set to harken back the old days of Grand Central Station and the original Madison Square Garden.
“I want them to appreciate that they’re at home. This is their home,” Ledecky said. “We built this with hundreds of feedback points from each and every fan. We wandered around the Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center and took copious notes on what they wanted.
“They wanted a supporters section, they wanted to be able to stand and enjoy the game together and have a meeting place. They gave us details far and wide, very niche things that we needed to do.”
That’s exactly what they’re getting.
UBS Arena is one of the premier sporting venues in North America while somehow, someway instituting everything that the Islanders and their fan base are about: A blue-collar work ethic, an incurable passion for hockey, and a tight-knit community that resembles family more than fanaticism.
“Inclusion was the word that our fan base said. We want everyone to feel like they can participate and be a part of it,” Ledecky said. “We don’t want to see corporate suits. We want to be part of the fans and they can interact with each other whether they’re buying the best seat in the house or the Bob Uecker seat [last row], the democratization of the fan base was incredibly important to them.”