A rendering of the concert setup at UBS Arena, the new NHL facility opening next year at Belmont Park in New York. (Courtesy New York Islanders).

UBS Arena features amenities designed to draw concerts in competitive NYC market

The development team behind UBS Arena has put a focus on concerts from the artist experience.

Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center both have their share of issues tied to concert productions. Setup and teardown of major tours bring challenges for both venues, which are squeezed into New York’s urban landscape.

Officials with UBS Arena, the city’s newest big league venue, expect to eliminate those headaches when the new NHL facility opens at historic Belmont Park in late 2021. The arena sits on 400 acres, a rare luxury in sports and entertainment that allowed Oak View Group, the New York Islanders and Sterling Project Development to develop additional amenities for loading docks and backstage areas to accommodate artists and crews. (OVG owns VenuesNow and Pollstar).

OVG brought in Live Nation to team with architect Populous to design back-of-house spaces at UBS Arena, where concerts will play a critical role in the country’s biggest market. There’s already lots of competition for events. Next year, counting Belmont Park, five arenas in New York-New Jersey will have 14,000 or more seats. 

“The great thing about UBS Arena is it’s being made for music and built for hockey,” said Jon Ledecky, co-owner of the New York Islanders. “It’s terrific to be able to have the chance to design an arena that acoustically and intellectually can be developed for music. It’s important.”

On their own, MSG and Barclays Center stand out among the highest-grossing concert facilities of arenas their size, but the logistics of moving tours in and out of those buildings aren’t conducive to efficiency and cost savings, considering union labor expenses in the Big Apple.

“What’s unique about New York is you have an elevator and turntable at Barclays Center that artists have to deal with for tour production,” said Tim Leiweke, OVG’s chairman and co-founder. “When you have a 24-truck tour like Drake, you’ve got to load in one truck at a time, go down, hit the turntable, spin it around and unload it. In the case of the Garden, you’ve got a ramp that takes you up five levels and you (unload) one truck at a time.”

UBS Arena, by comparison, is designed with infrastructure for multiple trucks to unload simultaneously at service level. The enclosed, heated 55,000-square-foot marshaling area encompasses seven loading docks, plus a drive-through bay that allows for direct and easy access to the event floor for truck loading, said Jason Carmello, project architect with Populous.

In addition, there are electrical hookups for artists to stay in their recreational vehicles with direct access to the stage, as well as four dedicated star suites surrounding a premium green room and an artist entertainment lounge next door for family and guests, Carmello said. 

There’s direct access to the marshaling yard with a slope of about 15 feet before trucks enter the covered area. UBS Arena stands at the top of the industry for that part of the design, he said.

Populous also aligned the catwalk level with the press level, which enables concert crews to use freight elevators to transport rigging pieces to the top of the arena without having to get out at a secondary landing, Carmello said.

That aspect of design is similar to the event production layout at Chase Center in San Francisco.

The increases in efficiency should result in a quicker process on both ends of events, and the trucks don’t have to park five blocks away from the venue like they do at MSG and Barclays Center, Leiweke said.

The efficiencies should save promoters an average of $200,000 an event, said Irving Azoff, OVG’s co-founder and head of Azoff Music Entertainment. Ultimately, Leiweke said, the artists will spend less money on production and make more money on ticket sales.

“We’ve taken everything that Tim learned when he built Staples Center and what I learned when we redid the Forum,” Azoff said. “It’s a combination of a building made for hockey and rock ’n’ roll. We’re very proud and excited about the project we’re about to introduce to the industry.”

The accommodations for concert tours are on par with those for the Islanders, Leiweke said. There’s an equal amount of space for artists and crews with green rooms, locker  rooms, a commissary and offices, plus a catering kitchen, which is another feature at Chase Center.

At UBS Arena, about 8,500 seats, which makes up most of the lower bowl, will be marketed as P1 tickets, which are the highest-priced tickets. The venue can “flex” up to 1,000 seats in the upper levels to P1 pricing, said Hank Abate, president of OVG Facilities and the venue’s general manager.

“We’re spending $1.5 billion, and this building has to be one of the 10 best arenas for music,” Leiweke said.