MODEL TENANT: A model of UBS Arena is a centerpiece of the Manhattan preview center. (Courtesy New York Islanders)

In the Manhattan space showcasing Islanders’ new home, tradition is the key

The preview center for UBS Arena has taken a different tack compared with other big league projects. The focus is on classic New York landmarks such as Belmont Park, where the arena for the NHL’s New York Islanders is under construction, rather than high-tech gadgets.

The 5,000-square-foot preview center sits on the fifth floor at 920 Broadway in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. It’s situated one floor above OVG’s New York office, making it convenient for company officials to take prospective premium seat buyers and sponsors through the space.

There are no virtual reality goggles or mini halo boards, for example, that teams have used as marketing tools for new facilities in Sacramento and Atlanta. The move was intentional, said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group. 

OVG, which owns VenuesNow, is the developer behind the $1.3 billion arena in a partnership with the Islanders and fellow developers Value Retail and Sterling Project Development. It is scheduled to open in 2021.

UBS Arena preview center

CUP CRAZY: Commemorative Stanley Cups tied to the New York Islanders’ four NHL titles from 1980 through ’83 decorate the preview center. (Courtesy New York Islanders)

Project officials visited preview centers for Chase Center in San Francisco and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, to name a few. In New York, there is a mock suite and an arena model, which are essential parts of these centers. In that respect, the project still serves as the anchor to whet the appetite of prospective buyers.

Regardless of the components, the UBS Arena Preview Club is a seven-figure investment, falling in line with other centers, Leiweke said. 

But the goal was more about making a statement about the culture and atmosphere connected to the history of the horse track, live entertainment in New York and the Islanders’ 1980s run of four consecutive Stanley Cups.

“In New York, people aren’t going to make a decision to buy club seats or a sponsorship because of high-tech,” Leiweke said. “That doesn’t mean the building isn’t going to be high-tech; it just meant that we weren’t convinced that was the way we wanted to go in creating this space.”

The center’s overall theme was inspired by the signature wood finishes tied to the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel and the bar at the St. Regis, “those classic, historic places you want to go grab a cocktail with friends, do a business meeting and have some social activation,” Leiweke said.

In Manhattan, visitors get off the elevator and enter an immersive space designed similar to the arena’s UBS Club, its most exclusive premium lounge. The preview center version has a full-service bar.

The exhibition room follows, showcasing hockey memorabilia on display such as Islanders goalie Billy Smith’s mask and Coach Al Arbour’s team jacket, plus other items on loan from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and a hockey puck wall created by local artists. 

Visitors can have their photograph taken with the four commemorative Stanley Cup trophies.

On the music side, historical photos from recording artists such as Billy Joel, a Long Island native, are on display, along with signed guitars from Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and the Eagles.  

A conversation piece at the preview center is the vintage Clairtone Project G stereo system, which originated in the 1960s. 

Only 400 were made, said Jason Katz, vice president with S.D. Malkin Properties, the real estate firm owned by Islanders co-owner Scott Malkin.

The touches of Belmont Park feature a 115-year-old five-minute film sequence shot by Thomas Edison on the track’s opening day in 1905 that’s projected in the club space, as well as photos of visits by the Wright Brothers in 1910 and Jackie Onassis Kennedy decades later.

The archival items connect to the vision of UBS Arena, to create something that stands the test of time, Katz said. 

Matthew Goodrich, founder and principal of Goodrich, a New York interior designer that’s part of the arena design team with Populous, worked on the preview center. His firm specializes in hotel and restaurant work and was initially referred to the Islanders by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality, originator of Shake Shack.

For Goodrich, UBS Arena represents his first sports project and there was a learning curve, but he thinks that “innocent eye” helped in terms of coming at things from a different angle, both for the venue and preview center. 

Due to the pandemic, access to the preview center has been limited over the past few months. Officials hope that by early next year the center will be fully operational with a steady flow of in-person presentations and cocktail parties to help sell suites, club seats and founding partnerships.

As it stands now, roughly half of the arena’s 57 suites have been sold and about a third of the 1,300 club seats and sponsorships, Leiweke said. Some early meetings at the preview center were held during the Islanders’ playoff run with Leiweke and team co-owner Jon Ledecky pitching inventory and making television appearances during game intermissions. Other meetings are done by Zoom.

“We have a seven-figure advertising campaign in our back pocket that will break in conjunction with when we can start hosting events in the preview center,” Leiweke said. “We have a shorter selling season in-person to sell the remaining inventory in 10 months compared to what was supposed to be 20 months.”

In one sense, the pandemic has positioned the preview center as a beacon of hope for the future, according to Goodrich. It’s gone beyond the excitement potential buyers tend to experience as they observe firsthand the video fly-throughs and arena renderings.

“When we first conceived of this project, we planned to bring in large corporations with many guests,” he said. “What’s fascinating is because we’re all locked down and limited in our activities outside, it stands out as something special. You feel like you’re being taken care of now in a way we wouldn’t have appreciated as much if we were moving fast through life and doing many different things.”