What does $850 million get you when you upgrade a structure that embodies the glitziness and vigor of the Big Apple and proclaims itself “the world’s most famous arena”?
Part of the answer will become apparent on Oct. 22 when Madison Square Garden throws open its doors for the first time in five months with World Championship Boxing. The date marks the conclusion of the first phase of a three-part facelift designed to transform the aging arena into a sports and entertainment showplace capable of attracting the high profile sports, concerts and political events of its heyday, as well as awards shows.
The renovation is also meant to bring in more money per show, in order to encourage tour producers to continue to choose the Garden over newer arenas like the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. and Prudential Center in Newark, and those under construction in the metropolitan area, such as the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The fact the Garden is five floors above ground, requiring more stagehands and teamsters to set shows up, makes it one of the most expensive venues in the country in which to produce an event.
The cost-benefit equation is apparently good enough for many concert promoters. Artists already booked before year’s end include Duran Duran, Enrique Iglesias, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.
The Garden hosts approximately 350 events a year, making it the second busiest arena in the world. It also reigns as the third busiest music arena in terms of ticket sales.
The recently completed Phase One concentrated on renovating the lower bowl(the seats at the 100 and 200 levels). Phase II, skedded for next summer, will concentrate on the upper bowl (the seats at the 300 and 400 levels).
Phase III, pegged for summer 2013, will include a new entrance, two spectator bridges above the arena capable of seating 500 people apiece, and a 10,000- fan deck for standing-room attendance.
Knicks and Rangers season-ticket holders are chief among those who will have to pony up for the renovation; those who have season seats for the NBA team will see prices jump an average of 49%, while their NHL brethren will experience hikes of 23%.
Luxury suites, typically a venue’s second most important revenue stream behind television rights, are a focus of the makeover. In fact, the renovated arena was configured with the suites in mind.
Prior to the overhaul, the Garden had 89 luxury suites priced at between $225,000 and $400,000, all located in the arena’s upper concourse. In 1991, during its only prior renovation, the arena spent $200 million to remove hundreds of upper-tier seats in order to add suites.
The current renovation will give the arena 167 suites, including 20 so-called “event-level suites,” that accommodate up to 12 people for all Garden events at which tickets are publicly sold, including concerts, the circus and family shows. For hockey, the suites include seats located in the first five rows of the arena. For basketball, they include seats in rows 7-12. Fifty-eight new “Madison Suites” have also been constructed about 23 rows up from the floor, each featuring the same basic layout as the lower suites. For most concerts, the stage will be located at the west end of the arena or in the middle of the bowl, with no suites behind it.
Each suite includes a dining room, bar and bathrooms. Kitchens include granite countertops. The suites lease for a whopping $1 million a year, and all are spoken for. Garden officials declined to disclose the names of tenants. However, Garden president and CEO Hank Ratner characterized the tenants as a Who’s Who of corporate America.
And for that kind of money, there’s one extra amenity: Tenants are allowed to choose whether their suite has a working fireplace or waterfall.