By Barry Janoff
October 24, 2013: What do you get for $1 billion and 2.5 million hours of union labor?
In New York, a completely rebuilt Madison Square Garden — aka The World's Most Famous Arena — which underwent three-years of gutting, sifting, shifting, hammering, bolting and rebooting, all while its most famous tenants, the New York Knicks and Rangers, managed to conduct business almost as usual.
The new Garden — historically, the refurbished fourth building to be known as Madison Square Garden — was unveiled on Thursday (Oct. 24) to a invitation-only throng that included New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; sports icons Walt "Clyde" Frazier, Willis Reed and Mark Messier; celebs such as 50 Cent, Robert Wuhl and Chazz Palminteri; and a bevy of media.
The residents get to open the Garden tonight when the Knicks host the Charlotte Bobcats in a pre-season NBA game. The NHL's Rangers hit the new ice for the first time on Monday. The Knicks open the official NBA season on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks.
"Today, I am a very proud New Yorker," said Jim Dolan, executive chairman of The Madison Square Garden Company. "The bar was set very high for this project. This is a true transformation for everyone: the athletes, the people who work here and our [marketing] partners, who have a new and exciting platform in which to conduct business."
Financial firm JPMorgan Chase is the venue's marquee partner, coming as close to a naming rights partner as Madison Square Garden will ever be. Key partners also include Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Kia, Lexus and the just-signed SAP. Each has a branding presence in the building, such as the Chase Square main entrance, the Delta Sky360 Club and SAP as presenting partner for The Garden's "Defining Moments" and "Garden 366" exhibits of memorabilia.
The opening comes about a year after Barclays Center opened in Brooklyn, also at a cost of $1 billion, as the home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and, beginning in 2015, the NHL's New York Islanders.
"This is not just a building, it is a 134-year old institution," said Garden CEO Hank Ratner, not in that 2.5 million hours of union labor were involved in the rebuilding. "We have set the standard by which all other [venues] will be measured."
The first Garden first opened in 1879, was relocated in 1890 and again in 1925, then was unveiled in its current location in 1968, when its construction cost $123 million (about $785 million in 2013 terms).
The rebuilt venue's most interesting new features include two "bridges" in the upper echelon that can seat 430 and have room for private parties — "The [tickets were] snapped up" said Ratner — two 600-square-foot digital screens located in the ceiling of the Chase Square lobby (at one point, the changing visuals make it appear as if the entire building has been opened to the sky), a humongous center scoreboard and 96 suites, up from 89.
Fans and customers might care more about the fact that there are 50% more restrooms and 60% more concession areas, including a new array of food offerings and destinations from world-renowned chefs.
"This is not about the past, this is about the future," said Gov. Cuomo. "This will be an economic engine for New York. As governor of New York, I get to do a lot of things. But as a boy from Queens, to be here with Willis Reed and Mark Messier, how cool!"
The Garden already has been tapped to host the 2015 NBA All-Star Game (Barclays Center will host the pre-game weekend events) as well as the Eastern Regionals in the 2014 NCAA Div. 1 basketballll tournament. Executives said that the Garden is currently booked for more than 275 dates a year and would host more than 4 million visitors this year.
"There's lots of business in this market, which is wonderful," said Ratner. "The transformation project started long before Barclays. We wish them all the success, as we do for Newark, Izod and the Nassau Coliseum. But we think about the Garden, and the Garden holds a special place in people's hearts, and it always will."
“I was here when the opened the Garden in 1968," said Willis Reed, who was captain of the 1970 and 1973 Knicks NBA championship teams. "For all the athletes and entertainers who have played here, this has been a specular place. One hundred years from now, they’ll still be talking about how great the Garden is."
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