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NHL Seattle: City will not be on hook for ballooning KeyArena price tag

A slide in NHL Seattle's presentation to City Council, depicting a fully-renovated KeyArena (NHL Seattle)

Representatives from NHL Seattle and the Oak View Group spoke to Seattle City Council Monday, emphasizing that ever-increasing costs to KeyArena’s renovations will not be the responsibility of city taxpayers.

Report: KeyArena delays reopening, needs millions more

NHL Seattle and others spoke to the council’s Select Committee on Civic Arenas, regarding recent reports of delays and increasing costs for renovations to KeyArena.

The project has been fraught with setbacks and ballooning costs throughout its lifespan. The first price tag originally had renovations coming in around $600 million. That jumped to $700 million last September, $800 million when ground was broken in December, and $850 million in early-2019. As of now, the estimate sits between $900 and $930 million.

One fact was made clear at numerous points throughout the committee meeting: That the ever-inflating costs will not fall to Seattle’s taxpayers, and that if the price tag were to go up again, “the city would be protected.” On the hook instead would be the developers and private investors involved in the renovation project.

NHL Seattle President Leiweke and OVG construction executive Ken Johnson provided insight into why costs have risen over the last year, noting that the new arena will have double the square footage.

Much of that added space will be underground to a support a “solid back-of-house,” Johnson described.

The original KeyArena in 1962 was build on level ground. In 1995, the stadium was renovated to extend 38 feet underground. The newest renovation will have the arena’s back-of-house area sitting a full 53 feet below ground level, with significantly expanded floor space to boot.

Additionally, an underground tunnel spanning a full block will connect to eight loading docks to support music venue infrastructure.

Other costs have come from removing all the glass from the building, cataloging it, and storing it in a warehouse in Kent. It will later be reinstalled in keeping with KeyArena’s landmark status.

The rebuild is set to include a 360-foot-long glass atrium, dedicated locker rooms for Seattle’s new NHL team, a potential NBA team, and the Storm, 50,000 square feet of storage, and a 750,000 square foot interior. Capacity for hockey games will seat up around 17,400 people, while basketball will house 18,600.

NHL Seattle gives us glimpse inside KeyArena renovation

“Certainly the price tag is greater than we thought, but I’m proud our owners haven’t cut one corner,” Leiweke said.

The hope eventually is to have KeyArena be a one-stop shop for NHL hockey, concerts, and someday, an NBA team.

“We’re fully committed to the NBA playing in this building,” Leiweke told the council committee.

Other concerns in recent months have related to whether city taxpayers would be on the hook for extended relocation costs for the Seattle Storm, should the renovated KeyArena not open on schedule.

The specifics of that agreement were laid out in full at Monday’s meeting — as previously agreed to, the city is covering relocation costs for 2019 and 2020, up to $2.6 million. Should construction continue to hit delays, OVG will cover those costs beginning in 2021.

The hope for 2019 and 2020 is to keep costs low by providing incentives for the Storm to play their relocated games within Seattle city limits. The team will be splitting time between UW’s Alaska Airline’s Arena and Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.

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