BY SCOOBY AXSON
The world’s most famous arena is seeing changes….again. Madison Square Garden, home to about 320 events a year, opened its doors again last week after closing in May to complete the first of several construction phases. The Garden is under going an $850 million dollar renovation over the next three years intending to make the 20,000-seat facility better.
The building’s current location has been at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street since 1968, which makes it one of the oldest arenas in professional sports.
Some of the changes: the building will have expanded concourses that provide more walking room for fans, and there will be a new balcony on the 10th floor. The suites that were on the 10th floor will be moved to the ninth, seventh floor, and the event level.
“Not really impressed because this place isn’t finished. But not a bad start,” said New York Rangers fan Jacques Fillmore, when asked what he thought of the new construction. Fillmore, who attended a recent game says he can’t budget to go to more than a few games a year and that last year the building was starting to show its age.
Over the next three years, construction crews will build two bridges that will hang directly above the ice rink and basketball court and plans for a new, improved scoreboard are on the way as well. The bridges will allow fans easy access from one corner of the building to the other.
Fans will be shelling out big bucks during that time as ticket prices are expected to rise almost 50 percent for New York Knicks games and close to 25 percent for Rangers’ games. Current prices for Thursday’s night Rangers game against the Anaheim Ducks range from $39 in the upper levels to $820 for VIP rinkside seats. No ticket prices were available for the Knicks.
Some fans said they either don’t care about the upgrades or said the atmosphere hasn’t changed one bit.
“It is not a good sight to see construction around the arena, and to be honest most fans don’t care about the amenities,” said Michael Anderson, who was decked out in a Mark Messier jersey on Saturday, while waiting to enter the Garden for the hockey game against the Ottawa Senators. “We want good teams and not having to stand in front of the restroom for two hours. At least, that’s what I care about.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed at all: the high prices fans will pay for drinks and food. A large domestic draft beer costs fans a whopping $9.25 and the choice of foods range from a simple $6.25 foot-long hot dog to food at high-end restaurants like Italian-themed Locanda Verde, and Daily Burger, which will have concessions in the arena. Those restaurants are scheduled to open next month.
One thing fans will not see is an upgrade of the locker rooms for the professional sports tenants of the Garden: The New York Knicks and the New York Rangers. The locker rooms have been completely remodeled. Since the WNBA’s New York Liberty plays its home schedule during the summer months, they will be relocated to the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. until 2013.
“Some of the stuff is ridiculous, but as long as they provide a great experience for the people working hard to pay for some of this stuff, it’s OK with me,” said Brooklyn resident Jennifer Barkley, who attended the Rangers’ home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs with her husband, Bruce and their 4-year old son, Max. The Barkleys would not disclose exactly how much they spent on the evening’s tickets and refreshments but said it was “well over $100.”
Among the costliest upgrades are 20 courtside suites (complete with fireplaces, kitchens, and a full bar), according to security personnel who were not authorized to speak to the media.
Each suite has a $1 million tab.
Fans still showed up for the matchup against the Senators even though a snowstorm hit the New York area over the weekend, but the Rangers still lost their first two home games of a current six-game homestand.
Knick fans will not be filing into the Garden anytime soon due to the National Basketball Association lockout. While the NBA is shut down at least until the end of November, fans can look forward to a slew of concerts and college basketball.
Upcoming concerts from musical acts Jay-Z & Kanye West, Katy Perry, Josh Groban and Taylor Swift and the 2k Sports Classic benefiting Coaches Vs. Cancer College Basketball tournament headline the November slate for the Garden.