SEATTLE — Seattle arena investors and the ownership group of the city’s future hockey team broke ground Wednesday on a new arena at Seattle Center.
Groundbreaking for the KeyArena renovations comes one day after the National Hockey League approved an expansion franchise for Seattle.
The renovations are now expected to cost $850 million. Oak View Group (OVG) Chief Executive Officer Tim Leiweke said Wednesday that construction costs in Seattle are up thanks in part to good labor, and adding to the renovation design increased the cost of the project.
“We’re going to break ground on this, and when this is done it will be the best arena anywhere,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said during the ceremony.
The renovations are part of what will likely be a $1.6 billion investment from the Oak View Group.
“We made a commitment early on. We’re doing this without the taxpayers having to pay for it. That billion six ($1.6 billion) is a commitment to the state, and to the city, and to the community,” said Tim Leiweke. “The credit goes to the mayor. She had guts; she stuck with us, she went on many trips to tell the story about the city and this community to the (NHL) commissioner."
Seattle’s new hockey team is expected to begin playing in the arena for the 2021-22 season, which is one year later than anticipated. NHL officials pushed back the team’s start date due to concerns about the arena construction timeline.
“It was clear that this team wants to start in the absolute best, right way," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. "The certainty over the construction timeline, or the lack of certainty, led us to believe that making the start of the 2021 season would be speculative at best and unlikely at worst."
Leiweke told KING 5 that the extended timeline allows contractors to not work around the clock to finish by 2020 or cause 24/7 disruptions in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood.
"The reality is we want to pay some consideration to the neighborhood and not be doing triple shifts. So, we'll be careful the timing of the building and the construction of the building are done in a fashion so we don't disrupt anyone's lives as much as possible. But I think that gets us done April/May of 2021," he said. "So you open with the (Seattle Storm) and concerts."
Leiweke's partner Live Nation believes it could now schedule 60 concerts between the spring of 2021 and the fall when the hockey season would begin.
The extended timeline could be a bit of good luck for Seattle transportation planners. The Viaduct closure and Seattle tunnel opening in early 2019 have a lot of unknowns about how it will change daily travel patterns.
The Battery Street Tunnel will also close to allow the city to reconnect three east-west lanes between Seattle Center and South Lake Union to ease volumes on Mercer and Denny. According to SDOT, it will take 24 months to complete the streets. Based on that timeline, it now means they can likely be opened before the New Arena.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan approved the KeyArena renovations in September, capping over a decade-long debate on whether to makeover the Key or build a new arena in a different location.
The city agreed to a minor touchup of KeyArena in 2012 in exchange for a new arena in SODO, but when the deal to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle fell through a movement arose to replace KeyArena at its current site.
City council members rejected a street vacation application in 2016 for an arena in SODO, and then-Mayor Ed Murray’s office solicited bids for a renovated KeyArena.
Oak View Group offered to finance the deal privately and came with an NHL partner in billionaire David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer. OVG is paying for all the cost overruns.
Bonderman and company are also planning a corporate headquarters and training facility, with three ice rinks, in Northgate, with an estimated cost of between $70-$100 million dollars.