The ribbon was cut. Now, there only remains to play a hockey game at UBS Arena.
That will happen Saturday night as the Islanders host the Calgary Flames at their state-of-the-art $1.1 billion new home. On Friday, UBS Arena got a VIP-studded christening ceremony in the main lobby and concourses as the new facility was shown off hours before its inaugural event, a private charity concert for about 5,000, including arena construction workers and their families.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky, Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, Islanders Stanley Cup alumni Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies, Butch Goring, John Tonelli and Bobby Nystrom, outgoing Nassau County Executive Laura Curran as well as several other local politicians and officials were on hand for the culmination of a decades-long effort to find a new home for the franchise.
More than an hour’s worth of speeches, preceded by a video highlighting the building’s construction, ended with the dignitaries taking oversized scissors to cut a ceremonial ribbon.
"I have one word to describe this place: Wow," Hochul said. "This is spectacular. I’m a huge sports fan and I’ve been in plenty of arenas. This is as good as it gets."
Bettman noted that the new building "bears no resemblance" to the Islanders old home, beloved but cramped Nassau Coliseum, other than a low ceiling that will hold in the crowd noise.
"This is as fine a venue as there is in the world," Bettman said. "It makes you feel special to be here. Nothing was left to chance. It’s something Long Island has always deserved."
Ledecky, speaking on behalf of Islanders co-owner Scott Malkin, whose flight to New York was delayed, called it a "historic day for the Islanders’ organization."
There were cheers before, during and after each speech and even Bettman, famously booed at every venue at which he speaks by hockey fans, drew a positive response.
The loudest standing ovation, though, came as Leiweke thanked the union laborers and constructions workers attending the event.
Curran, too, drew a standing ovation as she strode to the podium.
"Drink this moment in," Curran said. "No longer is Long Island the land of ‘no.’ We are the land of ‘yes, yes, yes.’"
Curran then described UBS Arena’s construction as a "hat trick," because of the new Elmont LIRR station to serve the facility — the first new LIRR station opened in 50 years — the positive economic impact of the arena and the planned retail that will surround it and because it will keep the Islanders in Nassau County.
Hochul added UBS Arena, "bodes well for the future of this region, in terms of coming out of this pandemic, inviting people for a concert tonight, for a game tomorrow. The best is yet to come."
Potvin, taking a tour of UBS Arena, said he was impressed with the little touches. For instance, he said he found antique chairs in the team store. Potvin, who flew in from his Florida home, will attend both Saturday’s arena opener and Sunday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bettman, speaking to the media after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, again praised late Islanders owner Charles Wang for both absorbing huge financial losses to keep the Islanders on Long Island and having the initial vision for a new arena. He added Malkin was able to execute that vision, "perhaps better than anybody ever could have imagined."
Construction has continued throughout this week. Even as the ribbon-cutting ceremony was proceeding, workers were putting the finishing touches on a men’s room on the main concourse.
"We knew it was a challenge," Bettman said of the timeline to complete UBS Arena. "We knew it would get done."