The multi-year $850 million Madison Square Garden remodeling project made significant improvements over the summer of 2011. One big change that this year’s Westminster show attendees will have the opportunity to see is the new open design of the sixth-floor concourse.

Lynn Zinser, who writes about hockey for The New York Times, took a tour when the building reopened in October 2011. He reported in his “Slap Shot” column that the concourse is “50 percent wider and possibly 100 percent brighter than before.” It holds a “new array of concession stands, some with seating.”

A major part of the Madison Square Garden transformation was the lowering of the arena floor which took place over the summer of 2011. (Photo © 2012 The Madison Square Garden Company)

Rather than humdrum salads, pizza and hot dogs, you’ll be able to choose from updated menus from chef Andrew Carmellini of the restaurant Dutch who opened Sausage Boss, Jeremy Marshall of Aquagrill who launched Lobster Shrimp Roll, restaurateur Drew Nieporent’s Daily Burger and chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Simply Chicken. In addition, Hill Country Barbecue Market dishes up barbecue brisket and its famous pies, while the famed Carnegie Delicatessen offers its “stacked-high” sandwiches.

Of course, serious dog show lovers aren’t at Westminster for the food. They’ve traveled from all over the country for the dogs, the competition, and the chance to catch up with all the friends and colleagues who descend upon the city each year. If you’re hoping to do that in the benching area, it’s time to make another plan.

As of last year, the benching areas were rearranged to accommodate work on the Garden’s facelift. The dogs are in their crates, rather than in the bench-like structures of the past, and there is no room for grooming tables. Though the dogs can be seen by visitors, the limited benching area means more crowding than ever.

If your friends have Toys or Terriers and you don’t have an exhibitor badge, you can’t hang with them in their benching area at all. On Monday, the Toy breeds will be benched and judged in the Theater at Madison Square Garden, followed by the Terriers on Tuesday. This benching area will be closed to spectators. Junior Showmanship prelims will also be in the 5,600-seat theater both days.

Allow 20 minutes to travel from the main arena to the Theater at MSG. Signs will clearly mark the route, according to the WKC.

All dogs will be released from the benching areas at 7 p.m., rather than the customary 8 p.m. when Group judging begins.

The Toy and Terrier Groups will be judged in the main arena in the evenings as usual.

Due to the loss of benching space, entries were limited to 2,000 dogs this year. “The entry limit had changed on occasion since the show’s inception in 1877,” according to the WKC, “but has been 2,500 since 1982. That entry limit has always been reached very quickly each year.”

Exhibitors will enter the building as always at 31st Street and 8th Avenue.

The arena's renovation was completed in time for the opening of the Rangers' hockey season in October 2011. (Photo (c)2012 The Madison Square Garden Company)

A trip to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show wouldn’t be complete without a little shopping. You’ll find your favorites, perhaps such as B.B. Unlimited jewelry, Cherrybrook, Mackenzie Couture Accessories and William Secord Gallery, on the third floor.

Despite the inconveniences, MSG staff and WKC staff are optimistic about the transformation of the Garden.

Times writer Zinser quoted Hank Ratner, president of the Madison Square Garden Company: “What we set out to do is keep the magic of the Garden, the feel of the Garden, but to build a whole new arena.”

Westminster Show Chairman Thomas H. Bradley III writes in a judging schedule letter: “We are encouraged that, upon completion, the Garden’s renovation will provide more benching space and an efficient setup for our show. But for now, we have to make some adjustments that are in the best interests of the dogs and the competitors, while continuing to provide reasonable access for spectators, as well.”

For information about all changes due to construction, download the judging schedule here. It includes maps of the rings and benching areas.

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