City council approves KeyArena renovations

A recent approval by the Seattle City Council speaks to the city’s efforts to acquire new sports teams which will allow the city to expand its entertainment sector and bring in additional revenue. Photo: Jeramey Jannene.

The Seattle City Council has unanimously approved a $700 million KeyArena renovation plan, paving the way for more music and sports events which city leadership and locals say will strengthen local businesses and boost the local economy.

Some say the vote timing is fortuitous, as city investors are meeting with National Hockey League (NHL) leadership on Oct. 2 to make a bid for a Seattle franchise expansion.

In December, Seattle leadership approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG) to refurbish the arena in hopes of attracting both National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) teams.

On Sept. 14, the council’s Select Committee on Civic Arenas made a unanimous recommendation to pass the renovation plan as amended. The plan was then approved during a Sept. 24 full council meeting in a 8-0 vote.

During the council’s vote, Councilmember Rob Johnson praised the work done by the council and those involved in the project to move forward and quickly obtain new sports teams which will benefit the city and its residents for decades to come.

“We’ve got an agreement where we all share in some risks and some rewards, but we are going to build a world-class venue that is going to be home to some world-class teams and ideally one of those will be a basketball team on the men’s side to join the great basketball team we have on the women’s side,” he said.

Johnson added that the agreement includes a $2.5 million commitment for the city’s mandatory housing affordability program, $20 million in charitable giving including a $10 million commitment to homeless youth program YouthCare and $3.5 million to public art.

“It’s going to be part of a community in Seattle Center where we have internally set up a lot of really incredible arts and cultural institutions, and it’s going to respect and work with those…”

In response to the council’s 8-0 vote, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in an online statement that the city had two goals for the negotiation process and those were to get the best deal for Seattle and its taxpayers as well as create a world-class sports and music facility for the next 50 years.

“This agreement ensures that the much-needed redevelopment of KeyArena will create good, family-wage jobs, make critical investments in transportation, and protect taxpayers…” Durkan said. “Now the next generation will have an incredible arena that’s home to the country’s best sports teams, along with the music and entertainment Seattle Center is known for.”

Director of Seattle Center Robert Nellams told Lens he was “ecstatic” about the council’s decision, as it paves the way for another 50 years of viability for the Center and its attractions.

“I think all in all the negotiations went as smoothly as you could expect,” he said. “At the end there was nothing but hugs for everyone after diligent and difficult negations to make sure both sides got the things they needed and must have accomplished.”

Currently, KeyArena hosts between 100 and 120 events per year. Securing a hockey team would guarantee 40 additional dates at the new arena.  After renovations, Nellams said he expects 100 more events per year which includes more sporting events and KeyArena’s partnership with Live Nation for music shows.

“It’s a huge shot in the arm to the businesses, to Seattle Center and to the economic viability of our town because you are getting thousands of people coming more than half of the year to the building,” he said.

Investors are meeting to bid for a Seattle hockey franchise on Oct. 2. The NHL Board of Governors are then expected to vote in December whether to approve the expansion franchise for the 2020-2021 season.

Nellams said Seattle will have a strong case to argue for an NHL team because of the council’s unanimous support and locals’ interest in season tickets.

“You walk into the meeting next week and say all of our ducks are in a row, and the only thing we need now is your approval and we are full speed ahead,” he said.

If Seattle is to acquire both an NHL team and a men’s NBA team somewhere down the line, Nellams said the community is likely to embrace them as they have with Seahawks number 12 or the Mariners and their 1995 season.

“Those emotional connections are how communities are intertwined…that is the power of sports,” said Nellams. “If done right, this organization coming here has all the best people to do this right.”

While renovations are scheduled to start this December and finish October 2020 in time for the start of the 2020-2021 hockey season, demolition will not begin until there is a team deal in place.



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