Last week, state officials gathered with Islanders ownership, supporters and partners to celebrate the topping off of the $1.3 billion stadium. With the installation of the highest steel beam at the facility, the project is now on pace to open ahead of the 2021-2022 National Hockey League (NHL) season.
Eric Gertler, president and CEO of Empire State Development, said the ceremony marks a major step forward in bringing the Islanders home.
“I know it’s tough to picture, especially after everything we’ve gone through over the last seven months, but someday soon, the world will get back to normal,” he said. “We will pack this stadium, where we will yell and scream alongside our fellow New Yorkers, 19,000 of them, and cheer for the New York Islanders.”
The construction for the stadium was paused for two months when COVID-19 struck, but the union workers made up the time to put the project back on schedule.
First announced in December 2017, UBS Arena is the centerpiece of the $1.3 billion Belmont Park Redevelopment Project, which is converting 43 acres of underused parking lots at the site into a sports and hospitality destination.
The second and third phases of the redevelopment plan will bring a hotel, office space and retail village to Belmont Park. The MTA will also build a new Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station at Elmont, with the arena developers paying for the majority of the station.
According to state officials, the Elmont stop will be the first new LIRR station built in decades.
“This will be a home fit for a storied franchise,” said Steve Cohen, board chair of Empire State Development. “A team that won four Stanley Cups and is poised for more.”
According to Cohen, the project is creating 10,000 construction jobs and generating $2.7 billion in economic activity.
Once the project is complete, the developments are expected to create 3,200 permanent full-time jobs, produce $858 million in annual economic activity, and generate tens of millions of dollars in new annual tax revenue for the state.
Cohen, a longtime hockey fan, said the Islanders belong on Long Island because the team is “connected to the identity and pride” of the area.
“Generations of families from the island grew up watching games played by the Islanders in a stadium on Long Island,” he said. “I have no doubt the Islanders will have great success in this new home.”
Jon Ledecky, co-owner of the Islanders, said he was in awe of the work done by the people who built the arena.
“This will be our home, but it will always be your legacy,” he said. “UBS Arena will be first class and second to none.”
Joining Ledecky on stage were former Islanders stars Butch Goring, John Tonelli and Clark Gilles, all of whom helped the team win four Stanley Cups. They all signed the steel beam that was eventually lifted by crane to the highest point in the facility.
Ledecky said he and fellow co-owner Scott Malkin are “only temporary stewards” of the franchise. He said he sees their responsibility as protecting the team and building a community trust.
“We have an obligation to always do what’s right for the fans and Long Island,” he said. “That’s what UBS Arena is all about: protecting and growing the franchise for the future, while building up the community for generations to come.”
The Islanders initially left their longtime home at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in 2015 after their lease expired, moving to the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn for several years.
Between 2018 and 2020, however, the team split their home schedule between the Barclays Center and the coliseum, which was closed for two years for a major renovation. The franchise plans to play their home games at the coliseum for the 2020-2021 season before moving to their new home at UBS Arena for the 2021-2022 season.
The Islanders co-owner said their new home will “stand as a beacon” of strength, hope, resilience, achievement and community. He said he hopes its development will reinvigorate New York’s economy and help the state come back stronger than ever before.
“We are so delighted that we can give you this permanent home,” Ledecky said in a message to Islanders fans. “There will be so many great nights here, so many great wins, and so much joy as we go and try to create the environment that’s necessary to win that fifth ring.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he was delighted to see the progress made with the arena.
“In a time of uncertainty, difficulty and really anxiety for so many people, this represents a point of normalcy,” Bettman said at the ceremony. “It gives us a hope and a prospect to focus on for our future, which will be bright.”