SEATTLE — By now, you’ve likely gotten a glimpse inside Climate Pledge Arena, which recently officially opened. But, what you have yet to see is a true inside look at the new venue and what lies beneath the surface.
"Part of the design was to make this one of the greatest arenas in the country. Not just from how it looks but how it operates,” Ken Johnsen, a construction executive with Oak View Group – the developers of the arena said.
“We're going to have so many events in this building, both basketball, hockey, concerts,” he continued, “you want to be able to close up, and move out and move in fast.”
To make that happen, the design team at Climate Pledge had to dig deep. Literally. During construction, they burrowed a tunnel beneath the streets of Seattle leading to eight loading docks. This is a vast improvement from the logistical nightmare production crews faced at the former Key Arena, which only had two loading docks.
“When people come in, they're going to see a much better process, a much more efficient process than what they ever had before,” the arena’s VP of Programming, Nick Vaerewyck said.
The tunnel is also wide enough to fit two semi-trucks at a time – one going in and one going out.
“So, for a typical concert, you would see anywhere between 10 to 30 trucks coming in,” Vaerewyck explained, “Having a two-lane tunnel so that you can have trucks coming in to load in at the same time as ones are going out after they've emptied out is huge for us.”
Before performers and sports stars could be welcomed in, construction workers needed access to the tunnel so they could access materials needed to finish building the arena.
“So that's why it (was) so hard and critical to get this tunnel completed,” Tyrone Thorton, a project engineer with Mortenson Construction who helped build on the arena said.
The crew spent months making their way through the dirt and rubble – and faced a number of challenges along the way.
“There's been groundwater, there's been boulders, there's been a pipe (that’s) kind of been out of line,” Thorton explained. “We've got the best team here, they're absolutely amazing. You know, they're doing a great job, they're always pushing through obstacles.”
The biggest obstacle was the tunnel’s path which took them beneath Pottery Northwest, a building actively in use.
“We had to do this in a way that didn't disrupt them and didn't damage that historic building,” Johnsen said.
The crew overcame it all though, breaking through to the arena and meeting their deadline of completing the tunnel in January 2021.
“We love the outcome,” Thorton said. “The tunnel is amazing. I mean, it took so much to get here.”
Vaerewyck agrees and noted that he feels the arena's construction has expanded upon Seattle’s rich history.
“Seattle has been the epicenter of music. And so just to be a part of that…” Vaerewyck smiled, “Personally for me, you know, anytime that we can do something that has 17,000 people inside that building, chanting, singing along to the songs, chanting for the artists to come out, do an encore. That's what I'm looking forward to most.”