Seattle calls for applicants to redo Key Arena with no public cash, may actually get bites

This may go absolutely nowhere in the end, but the city of Seattle is certainly giving it the old college to see if it’s feasible to renovate Key Arena instead of building a whole new one, issuing a request for proposals for private developers to do so with no public money:

Under terms of the 25-page document, the city would maintain ownership of KeyArena, and any developer with an accepted proposal would pay a rental fee and assume all costs for maintenance and arena operations. The developer could sell naming rights for the upgraded venue as well as sponsorships and gain additional revenues via ticket sales and other routes.

“The assumption is that the city would be leasing the facility to the entity that would invest in it,’’ said Ben Noble, city budget director.

This sounds like exactly the sort of deal that private developers would turn up their noses at — you want us to put how much of our own money into renovating an existing arena and pay a rental fee and operating costs on top, what? — and yet two entertainment companies, AEG and Oak View Group (run by former AEG honcho Tim Leiweke), have said they’d be interested in bidding. So, if you’re the Seattle city council, why the hell not?

At worst, this will give the city more leverage to demand concessions from would-be arena developer Chris Hansen, which has already worked once. At best, just maybe they get AEG and Oak View into a bidding war for the rights to operate an arena in Seattle, which while not lucrative on the surface may matter a whole lot in the ongoing battle for arena management market share. Either way, it’s exploring your options rather than bidding against yourself, so preliminary kudos to the Seattle council for doing the right thing on that front.

11 comments on “Seattle calls for applicants to redo Key Arena with no public cash, may actually get bites

  1. Is the footprint of Key Arena large enough for a proper hockey rink. And by proper I mean 18,000+ unobstructed seats with views of the entire ice. (i.e. not the Barclay’s Center.) Or would the be looking for a basketball only deal.


      The AECOM report talks about how the roof is a separate structure from the interior and they could rotate the bowl (so the rink would be along a diagonal axis).

      This is the report that was paid for by Hansen and “handled quietly by the council” while a much bigger deal was made of the EIS for Hansen’s arena.

    • The configuration changed when the Seattle Center Coliseum was renovated in the mid-90’s to make it a poor facility for hockey, with the scoreboard moved to a position that partially blocks the view of thousands of seats in one end zone. Want to see what happens when play goes past the center red line? Watch the replay screen. Some say Sonics owner Barry Ackerley made sure the building was inhospitable to hockey because he didn’t want competition from an NHL team for playing dates.

      I never thought I’d ever say this, but smart move by the Seattle City Council in requiring bidders to fund the retrofit with their own money (glad I sat down when I was typing that). The City owns the Coliseum and the site it sits on, and they want whatever revenues Hansen would get at the other end of downtown. The problem is that traffic near Seattle Center borders the quixotic, with getting anywhere as the impossible dream. Good idea but an unworkable site, especially with thousands of Amazombies moving in to nearly South Lake Union.

  2. The AECOM plan, if I remember right, was to reconfigure the seating bowl so it was at an angle to the outside of the building, below-ground. Whether it’s cost-effective is now a question for AEG and Leiweke to decide.

  3. The problem with a refurbishment of the Key Arena is that since the Sonics have left, the South Lake Union neighborhood has added 25,000+ jobs and countless residents. Traffic to/from Seattle Center is abysmal, and I have no idea how more people trying to get to. 7:00 tip off will make it in a timely manner.

      • Deal with the traffic? It makes everybody take the train. That’s less of an option in Seattle.

      • The Islanders make around 25 million a year from their broadcasting deal w/ Cablevision plus another 50 million they receive from Barclays as part of the lease deal. Such revenue sources makes 15K plus capacity easy for the team to accept. A Seattle NHL franchise won’t have the luxury of a huge broadcasting deal and will need an arena more in line with the average capacity being constructed for newer arenas–somewhere in the range of 17.5K to 18K—to help them pencil out. I don’t see how they can get that under Key’s present roof.

  4. This plan might end up a total non-starter, we’ll see.
    I give them significant credit for trying this rather than opening with “how many hundreds of millions of dollars will you allow us to give you?”, though.