NBA Or NHL At A Renovated KeyArena? Seattle Has 2 Official Proposals

Apr 14, 2017

The city of Seattle is now examining two proposals submitted this week to renovate KeyArena for the NBA or NHL. There should be a decision by the end of June whether the city will go with one of these two plans or move forward with an arena proposal in the SoDo area.

KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked with 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick about the plans.

Who Are The Bidders?

"These are two very experienced arena groups," Thiel said. "Both are located in Los Angeles.

"Oak View Group is a newer company led by Tim Leiweke. He's the CEO and he's also the brother of Todd Leiweke, who was the Seahawks CEO and president when they hired Pete Carroll and John Schneider.

"The other group is Anschutz Entertainment Group [AEG], the world's largest arena maker with 26,000 employees. They are calling themselves Seattle Partners for this project."

What Are They Proposing?

"What they both have in common is they both want to spend more than $500 million to privately fund this arena. The remodel includes 17,000 seats for hockey, about 18,000 seats for basketball, and then about 19,000 seats for concerts.

"Both proposals are specific in that the concert business is going to come first because neither the NBA [nor] the NHL has an agenda at the moment to expand. So, they want to make concerts first and sports teams second."

Why Concerts First?

Thiel said he understands why the groups want to start with concerts.

"What they say is they want to unhook from the schedules of the sports leagues so that they can actually make money with concerts right away. And Seattle lacks that first-class concert venue.

"KeyArena is acoustically inadequate for a lot of concerts. And it only has one loading bay. Both proposals include eight bays, below grade, to accommodate the biggest concerts.

"I get what they're after. But there is no guarantee of a team. I think this market certainly will draw. But I think it also will be NHL first.

"Both of the groups claim that they're going to open in October 2020. I'm a little skeptical, given Seattle's process, but that's what they say.

"They've got to get something in the ground and up before the leagues can be solicited," he said.

Traffic And Parking Will Be Challenging

"Transportation and parking are the two biggest issues with any KeyArena project," Thiel continued.

"They're going to be adding 15,000-16,00 people on a much more regular basis than what we've seen now. And, since 2008 when the Sonics left for Oklahoma City, the scene has changed greatly in Lower Queen Anne.

"There's so much development, so many new residents. And the traffic problems have not been fixed by the Mercer Street upgrades. It's been adequate but it's not really adjusted for the future.

"We also have, in 2019, the arrival of the tunnel of State Route 99. That's really going to change things - hopefully for the better but it may be for the worse because there's no Seneca Street exit or Western Avenue [exit] right now in the tunnel.

"I just don't know where the traffic's going to go. These two groups think they've figured it out. We'll have to see," said Thiel.

What's The Status Of SoDo?

Investor Chris Hansen has a Memorandum of Understanding with the city of Seattle and King County for his arena project in the SoDo area. It expires in November of this year. He has asked the City Council to vote a second time on a street vacation needed for the project.

While the KeyArena projects are examined, Thiel said Hansen is in a bit of limbo.

"The City Council has committed to decide by June 30 on the viability of one of the two KeyArena projects," he said. "But they also have the option not to choose either if they find that there's some fatally-flawed aspect.

"But I don't think that's going to happen simply because the city is invested in the Seattle Center outcome. They want to revitalize the Center [and] these projects offer the best opportunity.

"So I think Chris Hansen may be out of luck after June 30th. But Hansen's going to hold his cards and see if he can still emerge with a project after spending $125 million in acquiring all that property in SoDo."

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You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.