Renovating the upper bowl
No one will say it out loud, of course, but every game the New York Rangers play in the NHL postseason is a sizable inconvenience when it comes to planning the renovation. This summer’s 20-week closing of the arena – which starts once the Rangers are either eliminated or win the Stanley Cup in mid-June – will involve workers tearing out 8,000 seats, dozens of luxury suites and 50,000 cubic feet of concrete and steel in the upper bowl. Then, they’ll rebuild it, 17 degrees steeper. “It will improve the sightlines,” project architect Murray Beynon said. They will also add more standing-room places and bar-style seating, which are new features for the arena. “This is about finding new ways for people to interact.”
Repurposing wasted space
The first phase of the transformation involved the creation of exclusive lounges at ice-level (including one sponsored by Delta Airlines) and at one end of the arena – both were constructed in what was previously used as storage space. Phase 2 involves another club/bar, as well as 58 private boxes added along the top of the previously-renovated lower bowl. Reconfiguring the upper bowl will provide space for wider concourses and concession areas, which will also have the side-benefit of providing city views – never a bad idea in mid-town Manhattan.
Ticket-holders in the lower bowl were more comfortable this season than those in the nosebleed seats – with wider, more cushioned seats – although that will change this fall. The turquoise seats of yore will be replaced with those that resemble the rest of the building. Next year, the final seating element will be built: a pair of bridges that span the length of the arena over the playing surface. “We were 1,000 seats short [in the original design]” Beynon said, “that’s what we came up with. It should be quite striking.” The other thing that will be eye-catching is the eventual restoration – scheduled next year – of the Garden’s iconic circular ceiling.
Friendlier playing environment
The Rangers and NBA’s Knicks moved into swanky new dressing rooms last fall, that are replete with everything a pro athlete could need and more (the walkway to the arena floor is glassed-in). The last element that needs to be taken care of to make the Rangers’ lives better – improving the legendarily soft ice – will happen after the final phase of the makeover next year. That’s also when workers will install new sound and video equipment. Renovating from the ground up has proved a particular challenge for a building that isn’t used to closing, so workers have been running fibre-optic cable, wiring, plumbing and heating/cooling ducts alongside and, in some cases, over top of existing ones. “It’s an enormous logistical challenge,” Beynon said.
Reinventing the luxury suite
The challenge for the project was to hit the sweet spot between opulence – fountains, marble, dark wood – and affordability. And so Beynon submitted even the most mundane details to rigorous focus-grouping, and spent considerable time talking to people who frequent the building. “You discover things like: few people actually paid for their tickets,” he said. In the first phase of the work, ice-level luxury boxes were built under the stands with access to seats close to the glass – refined versions of a concept first tried by BBB Architects at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. It’s an idea that came out of a conversation a few years ago with an executive from Imperial Oil. “He wanted to buy a suite, but still be able to sit in the stands,” Beynon said.