NHL Approves Club For Seattle

New team to play at rebuilt KeyArena; enhancements push venue cost to $800M

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: December 4, 2018

The rebuilt KeyArena, where the team will begin play in 2021, will be a world-class facility, NHL Seattle President and CEO Tod Leiweke said. (Courtesy NHL Seattle)

The NHL has officially approved an expansion team for Seattle, which is set to begin play for the 2021-22 season. The move is tied to an $800 million redevelopment of KeyArena.

The announcement came today during a news conference after the vote Tuesday morning at the NHL Board of Governors meeting in Sea Island, Ga.

Oak View Group, parent company of VenuesNow and Pollstar magazines, is the arena developer and is responsible for financing the project. In addition to hockey, the WNBA’s Seattle Storm will play home games at the reconstructed venue.

The groundbreaking ceremony took place Wednesday, and the arena is expected to reopen in the first quarter of 2021, said Tod Leiweke, president and CEO of NHL Seattle, the group representing team owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer.

The $800 million project cost is an increase of $100 million over previous projections. The rise reflects the commitment made by Bonderman and Bruckheimer to build a world-class facility, Leiweke said.

The arena’s signature features will include bridge seating hovering over the seating bowl, similar to Madison Square Garden’s Chase Bridge seats. The Seattle project is the second-highest in cost for a big league arena behind MSG's $1 billion transformation.

“We’ve kept things in (the project) that might have been targets of value engineering,” Leiweke said. “We have a bridge concept with hundreds of seats from this spectacular bridge overlooking the bowl. More than once we said, ‘Hey, is that something we can live without?’ If you talk about world class, you don’t cut things like that out.”

Two videoboards hanging above the goals in each end zone also added to the cost.

“I love the big center-hung boards, and we put one in Tampa (at Amalie Arena), but we’re going to try some pioneering here,” said Leiweke, who previously ran the Tampa Bay Lightning as well as the Minnesota Wild.

Initially, NHL Seattle’s plan was to complete the renovation and start play for the 2020 season. Pushing it back one year gives the team some “breathing room” to add those upgraded amenities, Leiweke said.

“Sixty to 90 days of additional time on a project can really allow you to push one final step,” Leiweke said.

The arena originally opened in 1962 for the World’s Fair and underwent a $75 million renovation in 1995 when it was home to the old Seattle SuperSonics before they relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008.

“We have high hopes and expectations for this building,” Leiweke said. “It’s the only arena in the world located in a park. Seattle Center [complex] is unique. It’s subterranean, and we’re going to go deeper with all the loading docks below ground. There will be four distinct entrances, and at the south end, there will be an atrium. The arena maintains its historic nature. We keep the roof, but everything else is new.”

Populous is the architect on the project, and a Skanska-Hunt joint venture is the builder. CAA Icon is the owner's representative.

Elevate Sports Ventures is selling premium seating for the arena, and OVG Global Partnerships is brokering naming rights and sponsorships. OVG will run the arena. Steve Mattson, formerly with Target Center, was hired as director of operations in December 2017.

Overall, the arena will expand from 450,000 square feet to 750,000 square feet. The work extends to upgrades for accommodating a potential NBA team in the future, Leiweke said. At this point, there is no deal to bring the NBA back to Seattle, which lost the Supersonics to Oklahoma City in 2008.

“One miracle at a time,” he said. “We’re very proud of the WNBA and the Storm. They represent best in class. We have to wait on the NBA. Lots of dreams came true this day [including] the 33,000 [hockey season ticket] despositors. They're at the core of this whole thing and we're not going to let them down."

Tod’s brother, Tim Leiweke, co-founder of Oak View Group, initially spearheaded the effort to secure an NHL team.

“It really solves a 16-year arena problem for one of the greatest cities in the world,” Tod Leiweke said. “My brother deserves enormous credit. I don’t think any of us would be here today without his guile, passion and conviction that this is one of the great markets in the U.S. Tomorrow we break ground on a beautiful arena that will be state of the art and solves a quandary for this city that’s been going on way too long.”

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: December 4, 2018