By Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen

The federal government has settled a civil lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 against the owners and operators of Madison Square Garden in New York. The lawsuit was filed by the government and simultaneously settled through a Consent Decree, under the terms of which the Garden has agreed to take steps to make its arena accessible to individuals with disabilities in compliance with the ADA. The case was assigned to United States District Court Judge Richard J. Holwell of Manhattan, and the Consent Decree, which is subject to the Court’s approval, has been submitted to him for review.

According to the complaint, the Garden opened in 1968 as a state-of-the-art, multi-use sports and entertainment facility. In 1991, the Garden underwent a major renovation to the entire facility during which its main arena was extensively modified. Since the passage of the ADA 17 years ago, the Garden has made a number of alterations to its facilities but, as the government alleges in its complaint, failed to comply with federal law in doing so.

Under the terms of the Consent Decree, the Garden has agreed to provide 50 wheelchair and companion seats in the arena. By this weekend, the Garden will provide two wheelchair and two companion seats on the arena floor for basketball games. For hockey games, concerts and other events, these seats will be provided no later than January 31, 2008. By October 1, 2008, the Garden will provide 48 additional wheelchair and companion seats in locations dispersed throughout the arena. The Garden will also install 20 accessible aisle seats in the venue by January 31, 2008 and will install another 40 accessible aisle seats by October 1, 2008.

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In addition to providing for this seating, the Decree also obligates the Garden to remedy hundreds of architectural barriers along the routes between the Garden’s entrances and the newly accessible seats. This will ensure that patrons with disabilities will be able to use all of the restaurants, bars, elevators, bathrooms, telephones and drinking fountains that line the routes to their seats.

As a result of the Consent Decree, fans with disabilities will for the first time in the Garden’s history have a right to purchase accessible floor seats in the arena for all events. The Decree ensures that the Garden’s ticketing and pricing policies for all arena events will afford individuals with disabilities the opportunity to benefit from the Garden’s services in a manner comparable to that afforded to other individuals, giving first preference for tickets for wheelchair locations and companion seating for all events at the arena to those who request such seats for reasons related to a disability.

The Garden has also agreed to pay $55,000 to the government and to expend at least $10,000 per year for the next three years on advertisements promoting the availability of accessible seating.

Finally, the Garden has agreed to comply with the ADA in all respects if it relocates to a location other than its current site or substantially renovates its current facility. The Garden intends to either relocate to a new facility near its current address or, alternatively, undertake a significant renovation of the existing building.

“Equal access to Madison Square Garden for those with disabilities is required by law,” said Michael J. Garcia, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement. “Today’s agreement is the first step toward ensuring every visitor to the Garden can fully enjoy the events held there.”