The Knicks and Rangers were last seen in May and won't be back until November, but in the meantime their home has spent its second consecutive summer undergoing the most comprehensive renovation in its 42-year history.
Phase II of the three-year, nearly $1-billion project to transform Madison Square Garden has focused mostly on the suites that ring the middle level, and on the upper seating bowl, which has been rebuilt from scratch.
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Net result: Seats that are about 10 feet closer to the playing surface and 17 degrees steeper than they used to be, an upgrade after decades of complaints about sight lines.
Also, the concourse that used to ring the arena on the inside is gone, meaning no more obstructions for fans seated toward the front of the upper bowl.
"It's dramatic and major," Hank Ratner, president and CEO of MSG Co., said Wednesday while showing around seven journalists in the first public look at the current project.
But now nearly 11 weeks in, the new look has taken shape, so by the time the Rangers and Knicks return the work will be mostly complete. (The lower bowl was the focus of last summer's construction.)
Phase III in 2013 will include the two distinctive "bridges" that will span the arena and provide a unique seating view, a new scoreboard and a rebuilt lobby/entryway.
The current phase includes 58 new suites, with their own concourse. Above that is a new eighth-floor concourse that, like the one that opened last year on the sixth floor, will be much wider than its predecessor and have far more food options.
There also will be an improved concourse on the 10th floor, at the top of the upper seating area.
Another feature of this phase is the return of about 1,000 blue seats the exact hue of the famed upper-level seats from before the early 1990s Garden renovation that have particular emotional resonance for Rangers fans.
The first event at the Garden this fall will be the Rangers' home opener against the Stars Nov. 1, the same night the Knicks visit the Barclays Center for the Nets' first regular-season game there. The Knicks will host the Heat Nov. 2.
Ratner said if the Rangers had advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in June, the fall season openers would have been pushed later into November to complete the construction schedule.
The Garden has raised ticket prices over the past two seasons to help pay for the upgrades. Ratner said reviews from fans were positive after last year's work and that renewals are strong for the 2012-13 winter sports seasons.