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Seattle Center Arena will take longer—and cost more

Meanwhile, the interior of the old Key Arena has been stripped, ready to be demolished, save for the roof

A rendering of the new arena—with the old roof—in Seattle Center. The arena is being designed by architecture firm Populous.
Populous/Courtesy of Oak View Group

The final price tag for a new arena underneath the Key Arena roof has risen to between $900 million and $930 million, Seattle NHL team president Tod Leiweke said Thursday. The opening date has also been pushed back, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2021.

The project was originally slated to cost $600 million, paid for by OVG and private equity, but some additional project upgrades brought the price tag to $700 million—Tim Leiweke, Oak View Group president (and Tod Leiweke’s brother) told ESPN that $100 million came from multiple factors, including dedicated locker rooms for NHL and NBA teams and the existing Seattle Storm, plus 50,000 extra square feet for storage and the Space Needle view club.

The cost of the arena has been largely increasing since then—both because of arena features and rising construction costs. Tod Leiweke was vague about the increase speaking to media Thursday, calling the project “epic.”

“We didn’t value engineer this project,” he said. “We didn’t cut things out.”

As for the opening date: Oak View Group is pushing for June 1, 2021—and has put incentives in place for contractor Mortenson to get the job done by that August. While the arena itself is privately financed, pushing the delay too far past the start of the 2021 WNBA season, Geoff Baker at the Seattle Times notes, could be the thing that puts the public on the hook:

While sports leagues can buy teams a few weeks to cover such delays by having their season start on the road, anything beyond that gets tricky because city taxpayers could be on the hook for $260,000 per 2021 home game missed by the Storm due to relocation.

The Storm are playing out of the University of Washington’s Alaska Airlines Arena and at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett during construction.

Project executive Ken Johnsen said that now, “we’re doing the base work, we’re going down... then we start coming back up.” At that point, said Johnsen, they’ll have more “schedule certainty “

“It’s important that we do it right,” said Johnsen. “It’s important that we do it safe.”

The interior of Key Arena has been completely gutted in preparation for knocking down everything but the roof, which will be supported by temporary steel beams during demolition (eventually replaced with permanent steel beams), and some windows of the west curtain wall, which are being removed and catalogued for re-installation. A hard-hat tour on Thursday gave a peek at a stripped arena interior and the underside of the roof.

“Hard construction,” an NHL Seattle spokesperson said over email, will start in a few weeks.

“Many... still believe it’s a renovation,” said Tod Leiweke. “It’s a brand-new building.”

The remains of Key Arena’s stands.
Sarah Anne Lloyd
Machinery and a pile of rubble sit under the iconic Key Arena roof.
Sarah Anne Lloyd

The project team also revealed a scale model of the arena’s hockey setup (with a very elaborate light show reveal), which has 17,300-person capacity, which Leiweke said is “probably the middle of the pack”—set for Seattle’s upcoming hockey team.

The walls are going to be relatively steep, with the idea “getting close to the action,” said Johnsen.

In addition to the hockey square footage, the arena is set to have 18,600-person capacity for basketball, plus 750,000 square feet of interior space.

The arena group’s initial lease will be for 39 years, with options for extensions. Under its agreement with the City of Seattle, the group will pay the City of Seattle a minimum of $5 million a year, which is around the city’s current revenue from the arena, the Seattle Times reports. Revenue beyond that will be split between the group and the city. The city will also have 14 rent-free days to use the arena, including for a four-day free medical clinic and for Bumbershoot.

KeyArena

305 Harrison St., Seattle, WA 98109