Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
Madison Square Garden officials marked the completion of a three-year, $1 billion renovation Thursday by unveiling the final phase of the project -- highlighted by the two highly anticipated new "bridges" suspended from the ceiling.
Speaking in the newly remade lobby, Garden CEO Hank Ratner called the undertaking "an enormous privilege and a humbling responsibility" and said he is "proud and very relieved" to have achieved its ambitious goals.
Joining Ratner in addressing a crowded news conference were New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Garden executive chairman James Dolan, Mark Messier and Willis Reed.
Dolan began by setting aside prepared remarks to say, "I just would like to tell you all that I am a very proud New Yorker today."
The public will get its first look at the completed Garden when the Knicks host the Bobcats in a preseason game Friday night, followed by the Rangers' home opener against the Canadiens on Monday.
What fans will find after the third full summer of work is an assortment of new touches, including the expanded lobby -- featuring a pair of 600-square-foot video boards on the ceiling -- historical exhibits, new suites and a gleaming new scoreboard.
But by far the greatest source of curiosity from the start has been the bridges, which will include seating for fans and for the news media, including a location for hockey broadcasters.
Ratner called it the most unique vantage point in professional sports.
Reporters were shown the bridge that includes 355 seats for fans, with the first of three rows of seats offering views that are at approximately a 43-degree angle, compared to 22 degrees for regular upper- bowl seats. The structures are suspended from the Garden's distinctive ceiling, in part as an homage to the region's iconic suspension bridges.
Most already have been bought, sight unseen, as parts of individual or partial season plans ranging in price from $110 to $150 per game.
The idea, Ratner said, was to make the bridges as unobtrusive as possible, a goal that seems to have been achieved. They barely are noticeable from court level, blending into the upper seating area.
The playing surface is not obstructed by the bridges, but in the eight or nine highest rows of the upper bowl, the view of the main scoreboard is partly or mostly blocked. To compensate, three 145-inch screens have been installed on the backs of the bridges, mimicking the video and statistical information seen on the scoreboard.
Fans without seats on the bridges will be allowed access to them via the walkway that extends the length of the structure behind the third row of seats.
Numerous athletes and entertainers in addition to Messier and Reed attended the grand opening, including Walt Frazier, who called the makeover "magnificent."
"I think this is going to resonate throughout the league for free agents," he said.
Said Dolan: "For us, owning and operating Madison Square Garden is a trust, one that we take very seriously . . . It's a very proud day, because we believe we have succeeded in making this a truly unforgettable place for everyone."
The Dolan family owns
controlling interests in the
Knicks, Rangers, Madison Square Garden and Cablevision.
Cablevision owns Newsday.