Ready to “Rock”

The state-of-the-art Prudential Center, new home of Devils’ hockey (and more), launches Newark’s ice age.

One thing you won’t find in the new Prudential Center arena—which has just about every amenity and high-tech feature imaginable—is a mini-fridge in the luxury boxes. That isn’t an oversight. Jeff Vanderbeek, the 50-year-old owner of the New Jersey Devils, is a very thorough guy.

GAME ON: The arena, two blocks from Newark Penn Station, features glass towers at the north and south ends and ultra-swank luxury suites.

“Before we started any plans on the Prudential Center,” says Vanderbeek, who also is president and chairman of Devils Arena Entertainment, “we toured 22 arenas in one-and-a-half years. It gave us a great sense of what works and what doesn’t.”

The visits produced ideas for more than 50 features, large and small, which were incorporated into the design. They range from event-specific acoustics and seating (different for a hockey or basketball game than for a concert) to WiFi in the luxury boxes. The lessons included some surprises.

“We found that refrigerators in luxury boxes inhibit people,” Vanderbeek says. “Fans felt like they were hitting the mini-bar in a hotel room.” So instead of fridges, the arena’s 76 luxury suites are equipped with stainless-steel “sculpture-like party buckets,” in his words, each big enough to hold a case of beer on ice.

The Prudential Center, which fans and marketers alike started calling “the Rock” as soon as the insurance company’s naming agreement was announced, will open on October 25 with the first of eleven concerts by Jersey rock gods Bon Jovi. The Devils, after a nine-game road trip, the longest in franchise history, will play the first game at their new $375 million home on October 27, against the defending Eastern Conference champion Ottawa Senators.

The Rock will rock year-round. Seton Hall’s basketball team will play there, as will the New Jersey Ironmen of the Major Indoor Soccer League. Most significant, though, Vanderbeek has partnered with entertainment giant AEG to run the arena, taking advantage of the corporation’s musical clients and promotional reach. The Ringling Brothers circus, and a variety of other attractions will take the stage.

“In the first 30 days, there will be only four off-days,” says AEG’s Dale Adams, general manager of the arena. “This is going to be the premiere destination to see games and concerts in the entire New York area. New Jersey can say, ‘This is ours, and we can be proud of it.’”

Vanderbeek, son of a Somerville dry cleaner, became one of the highest-paid executives in the nation in a 20-year career with Lehman Brothers. A lifelong hockey fan, he left the firm in 2004 to become majority owner of the Devils and move the team to Newark. He speaks about the Rock with unreserved enthusiasm.

“We have two glass entrance cylinders that are designed after an ancient Greek structure—they don’t exist anywhere else,” he says. The cylinders will be lit up with different colors depending on the event and will contain interactive kiosks from various team and arena sponsors.

Outdoors, a 4,800-square-foot, high-definition screen on the east side of the arena faces the pedestrian park that leads to Penn Station. The largest of its kind in the United States, the screen will flash Devils highlights and event teasers. Vanderbeek isn’t shy about the quality of the picture. “It’s better than the best definition on most of [the signs in] Times Square,” he boasts.

Other amenities include the Platinum Club, serving upscale food and drink to holders of premium seats. Facing center ice on each side of the arena are two themed lounges—Fire (lots of bright reds and oranges) and Ice (blue and silver with a bar actually made of ice).

Like other modern venues, the Rock has broad interior concourses and a wide array of concessions. Even on non-game days, restaurants and ground-floor shops will be open to anyone on Edison Street—which might soon boast a piece of Jersey memorabilia.

Remember the enormous bottle­­­—visible from the Garden State Parkway—that once perched above Newark’s Hoffman Beverage Co.? When the site was demolished, Vanderbeek purchased the bottle and has been rehabbing it in a secret location. It will eventually be placed outside the stadium.

“Fenway Park has the Citgo sign, and Madison Square Garden has the massive marquee,” he says. “I want this piece of Jersey to be a point of reference for the stadium, the place where friends can say, ‘Hey, meet me at the bottle and we can go in together.’”

The Rock will hold 17,625 for hockey, and around 19,000 for basketball. Vanderbeek claims that every seat—even the $10 ones—has a good view due to the steep pitch of the lower and upper decks. The seating can be reconfigured down to 5,000 for small-scale concerts. It’s not a matter of dropping a curtain over unused seats. Every aspect of the arena, from acoustic ceiling tiles to speaker placement to the arrangement of curtains and baffles is geared to optimize acoustics for each configuration. The sound, Vanderbeek says, will be “loud but precise.”

Neither Vanderbeek nor Adams seem worried that fans will be afraid to come to Newark. Vanderbeek notes that even before the promotional push, more than 90 percent of Devils season ticket holders renewed their subscriptions.

Vanderbeek doesn’t rule out the possibility that more basketball could one day be played in the Rock. “I would love to have an NBA team in this arena,” he says. “I know that the plan is for the Nets to move to Brooklyn, but if something falls through, they’d be welcome here. And these days, teams move around, so there could always be a chance to get another NBA team willing to relocate.”

The Devils plan to integrate themselves into the community. Their practice facility, adjacent to the arena, will include a community center with programs for children and seniors. “We want to give the kids skating lessons and provide a safe haven during the day and after school,” Vanderbeek says. The stadium also gives a nod to the state’s hockey players: Inside the lobby, jerseys from every high school and youth club team will hang on one wall.

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