Replete with all the amenities of a state-of-the-art , world-class sports and entertainment venue, when the new Seattle Center Arena opens its doors it will nonetheless exude the authenticity of a building that has immense history behind it.
On July 31, OVG-Seattle and NHL Seattle announced Skanska and AECOM Hunt as the project's general contractors while also unveiling new schematics and details of what awaits hockey, basketball and music fans. Construction is projected to begin in autumn 2018.
"We're moving to a phase where this is real, ground is going to be broken, games are going to be played, fans are going to be thrilled and hot dogs are going to be served," said Tod Leiweke, President and CEO, Seattle Hockey Partners.
On March 1, NHL Seattle was deluged with 32,000 deposits for season tickets. "What our fans did that day will forever be a part of the history of this franchise," remarked Leiweke. "We are totally indebted to the fans, and we're not going to let them down."
To that end, representatives of OVG-Seattle, Skanska-Hunt, Populous (architect) and CAA ICON (developer representative and project manager) presented the entirely privately-financed, $700 million plan to take a roof structure designed for the Century 21 World's Fair of 1962 and create a new Arena under it that can host NHL, NBA, WNBA and, in all, over 140 events per year.
From the outside, in many respects Seattle Center Arena will appear unchanged. Its iconic roofline–which sheltered everything from Beatles concerts to the NBA Finals–shall stay intact, along with the four supporting pylons. Under that lid, however, will be an arena that is vastly different than today's KeyArena.
Capacity will be expanded to 17,400 for NHL hockey and 18,600 for NBA basketball and the building's area will grow to 750,000 square feet. It will be bigger yet retain the snug surroundings that, thanks to full-throated Seattle fans, made KeyArena (and the Coliseum before it) such a pulsating place.
For Seattle Center Arena to grow while staying within the confines of the roof, the playing floor will drop 15 feet and a total of 58 feet below grade. That also allows the hockey center line and basketball half-court stripe to align. Surrounding that floor will be a large lower bowl seating 9,600 for basketball and 8,400 for hockey.
"We want to make it perfect for hockey," said Tim Romani, CEO of CAA ICON, but not at the expense of compromising on basketball sightlines. Romani compared Seattle Center Arena to seating plans for three of the most highly regarded NBA environments: Brooklyn's Barclays Center, Indiana's Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.
Seattle will feature seating significantly closer to the court, whether its premium or the highest seats in the arena. "We're more intimate than the Barclays Center, which is allegedly on the best NBA environments," stated Romani, adding, "Our end zone configuration is always better than any other arena out there."
There will be 19 event suites along the sidelines, plus 40 suites ringing the lower bowl and club areas in the south end zone. There will be two bridges suspended from the ceiling, one for premium seats and another for press.
"We wanted amenities that would allow both teams to be in the top third of the league in generating revenue," explained Tim Leiweke, CEO of OVG. "That's the brilliance of this building."
By building-in prerequisites such as permanent locker rooms for the Storm, NHL and NBA and increasing back-of-house storage space, Seattle Center Arena becomes a turnkey proposition when the NBA returns.
Said Leiweke; "We know we have three things that bode well should an (NBA) team become available: the best (available) market, an ownership group that can write a check tomorrow, and a building that can maximize revenue and keep it in the top third in gross revenue."
Hunt has delivered venues for 13 NHL and 14 NBA teams, recently adding Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to its résumé. All involved admit that Seattle Center Arena presents substantial engineering and construction challenges, not the least of which is the extensive excavation and creating a new ‘front door' atrium on the south side.
Seattle Center, of course, is more than an arena, more than the Space Needle. In many ways it's the city's front yard, a destination point for 12 million visitors each year. It's also home to the arts and dozens of non-profit organizations, from the Seattle International Film Festival to KEXP radio.
Every facet of the arena's reconstruction is being planned with the neighborhood in mind, seeking to minimize the impact.
"We've been working hard in the community to build trust, and the resident organizations are going to go through some hassle here," said Tod Leiweke. "We've said to these organizations; trust us. We're going to build this in the most responsible way possible, and more importantly we're going to be your partner for the next 50 years."
He envisions partnership opportunities, such as SIFF perhaps producing game presentation features and KEXP-created playlists.
"That's when our building becomes authentic. This building will have a soul from Day One," contended Tod Leiweke. "This building has taken a lot of guff for a lot of years. We're here to love this building, to upgrade it, to bring it back to its grandeur.
"This was a building conceived in the Fifties, and under that roof some pretty amazing things have happened," he noted. "Now fans can think about a whole new series of experiences that are going to be every bit as epic."