SBJ/Nov. 4-10, 2013/Facilities

Garden finds its link to future in bridges

For close to 50 years, Madison Square Garden’s finished ceiling has been its defining characteristic. Now add the Chase Bridge seats as another design element unique among big league arenas.

One of the new bridges is visible near the ceiling to the left in MSG’s fully refurbished bowl.
All photos by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY

SBJ Podcast:
Facilities reporter Don Muret describes the renovated Madison Square Garden.

The newest signature feature, within arm’s length of the ceiling, tops the list of final fixtures tied to the massive three-year, $1 billion renovation of the world’s most famous arena and home of the New York Knicks and Rangers.

“You sit in the most spectacular seat for hockey and basketball … there is a vantage point above the action that you can’t find anywhere else,” said Hank Ratner, Madison Square Garden Co.’s president and CEO. “The uniqueness of this seat —
A view from one of the bridges.
there is nothing like it.”

For now, anyway. The novelty of the bridges — two of them hold 430 seats and are suspended above the seating bowl on the 10th floor at the top of the arena — has drawn the attention of other NBA and NHL teams. Three clubs have contacted the Garden for information on potentially adding bridge seats, although MSG officials refuse to identify them.

“There is no one I can talk about right now, but it has captured the imagination of both leagues,” said Murray Beynon, MSG’s architect for the renovation.

The bridge seats provide the “wow” factor MSG was seeking for the most expensive arena project in sports, funded privately and backed by landmark deals such as Chase Bank’s 10-year, $300 million sponsorship to put its name on the bridges and other spaces.

In a sense, MSG is bucking the trend among teams to put patrons as close to the action as possible in premium event-level spaces. The beauty of the bridge seats, though, is that their concourses are open to the public for all ticket holders to sample the one-of-a-kind experience.

New team store is inside Chase Square.
At the Rangers’ regular-season home opener, the bridge seats represented a smorgasbord of the team’s fan base. Wall Street types in suits rubbed elbows with men and women wearing jerseys of Ryan Callahan, the Rangers’ right winger and team captain.

The original roof structure was strong enough that it gave project officials the confidence that it could withstand the stress of supporting the pair of 330-ton bridges, Beynon said.

But the bridges are only part of the show at the arena, a production that now begins in Chase Square, the Garden’s elegant, gleaming new front door on Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan. The two-story, 18,000-square-foot enclosed space, three times larger than the old entrance, is open year-round with a new team store and box office.

The square’s glass walls bring much more sunlight and offer city views into that portion of the building.

As patrons walk through Chase Square, two 600-square-foot video displays on the ceiling deliver custom content that plays off their location in a humorous vein. Fans looking up can catch a glimpse of Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony “crashing” through from basketball court to the square floor or Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist autographing the ice before “closing the lid” on the video clip.

“This is taking the experience to a different level,” Ratner said. “Again, something you can’t find anywhere else.”

The screens symbolize the tall buildings in a city where tourists peer to the sky to see the sights, Beynon said. They also provide a point of reference to the Garden’s event level on the fifth floor. “The main show is up there,” he said.

Inside the seating bowl, Daktronics produced a circular center-hung video board that fits the contours of the Garden. Several major league arenas have followed the Dallas Cowboys’
model by installing rectangular boards, but MSG stayed true to its original design.

“It is the only multi-use arena where the bowl is an oval,” Beynon said. “The curves are part of the building and its DNA.”

As part of the final upgrades, the 18 Signature Suites on the ninth level were renovated. Those skyboxes, the only ones kept intact from the arena’s original design, are on the east end. All units have 12 fixed seats and five bar stools and sell for $500,000 annually, said sources familiar with pricing. There are still
From top: Two ceiling-mounted video screens provide an unusual view for fans entering through the new Chase Square; renovated box office inside Chase Square;  memorabilia in the hallway of the Signature Suite level on the ninth floor; one of the new group spaces that was also part of the final phase of renovations.
some units to sell, although MSG officials would not say how many remain on the market.

The hallways on that level feature memorabilia such as Wayne Gretzky’s locker, an original ice resurfacer predating the Zamboni brand and the Beastie Boys’ green and gold Adidas warmup jackets.

It is one more space the Garden has available to display artifacts from an arena bursting with history.

“We view the whole building as a hall of fame,”Ratner said.

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