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Prospective developers kick the tires on KeyArena

It was like a real estate open house at KeyArena Wednesday as city officials hosted an official tour for companies interested in bidding on a remodel or rebuild of the former home of the SuperSonics.

The city’s Request for Proposal asks developers to come up with plans to fix the place up and make it “state-of-the-art,” or alternately demolish it and build an entirely new arena.

Seattle official: City is open to complete rebuild of KeyArena

“This is really about KeyArena, and understanding how viable KeyArena is or could be,” said Brian Surratt, the director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development. Surratt is leading the coordination of the KeyArena redevelopment.

As he joined a group of prospective bidders, journalists, and other city officials Wednesday, Surratt said the city views KeyArena as a separate conversation from its agreement with developer Chris Hansen and his proposal for an arena in Sodo.

“As public stewards, as public owners of KeyArena, we have to understand what is the future of KeyArena … what does it look like for the next 30 or 40 years,” he said.

The big question for many is whether a redeveloped KeyArena can help bring the NBA back to Seattle — and perhaps the National Hockey League.

Two arena heavyweights have already said they plan to bid for the job.

Representatives of both AEG and Oak View Group were on hand for the walkthrough, but neither would comment.

But AEG’s Bob Newman said recently that while they’ve studied KeyArena for years and are ready to go ahead with a state-of-the-art entertainment complex with or without pro sports — they’re confident if you build it, they will come.

“I think that’s been part of the issue in the past here. It’s been a chicken or egg. Let’s take that dilemma out of it. Let’s get the arena solution for this great city fixed, and then the team solution will follow,” Newman told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk Show.

One of the big stumbling blocks to KeyArena is traffic. The city’s RFP requires any developer to come up with a way to handle and fix the traffic problems that would plague the area several hundred days and nights a year.

“We’re very clear that we expect innovative proposals from potential bidders on transportation,” Surratt said.

Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubley says he’s confident solutions can be found with expanded access to transit, rideshare services, and ultimately light rail even though far more people now live and work in the area.

“There’s a lot that’s changed in the last ten years in this area. You’ve got a lot more people that are going to be able to walk to games after work or from their house,” Kubley said.

“And then we have Rapid Ride (bus), the D-Line coming in from Ballard, the E-Line coming in from Shoreline and North Seattle, so I think the transit infrastructure coming into this is better than it was ten years ago.”

That seems to defy today’s reality. Hour long trips along Mercer during rush hour are sure to get worse when Expedia moves to Interbay over the next couple of years, bringing thousands of cars more to the area.

Still, it sounds like the city is doing all it can to make KeyArena work.

But there are some who don’t care whether it’s KeyArena or a Hansen arena in Sodo.

“I just wish we’d do something, move forward, get something done,” said former NBA playing and coaching legend Lenny Wilkens, who coached the Sonics to the NBA championship in 1979.

He wrote an op-ed for Wednesday’s Seattle Times, saying the time is now for the city to stop dithering and get on with it, one way or another.

He says he’s willing to lend his help and his cache in any way he can. That includes calling the NBA commissioner. But he says we can’t wait for a team to appear first.

“One of the pre-requisites that he (NBA commissioner Adam Silver) has said is that they want to see a building here. So that has to be key. That has to start somewhere. And if you see that is in progress, then I think that they will move,” Wilkins said in an interview Wednesday.

Wilkins seems a logical choice to be part of a panel to be appointed by the mayor to consider the RFP proposals and make recommendations to the city, but he says he hasn’t been asked yet.

Bids are due by April 12, with recommendations due to the city June 30.

There’s no word when the mayor and city council might make a decision on whether to proceed with either group, and whether it will be a renovation or complete rebuild of KeyArena.

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