Seattle arena developers find loopholes to evade coronavirus construction ban

The increasingly worldwide suspension of nearly everything has finally started to hit stadium and arena construction: New York’s order on Friday banning “non-essential” construction put a halt to work on the Islanders‘ Belmont Park arena, and Austin’s “stay at home” order has shut down activity on Austin F.C.‘s new stadium. It’s reasonable to expect that more construction bans will follow in coming days and weeks, especially since the U.S. curve is decidedly not flattening yet.

Each of these rulings comes with exceptions, though — for example, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order exempts “roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing, and homeless shelters,” something that has drawn criticism given that tons of housing construction in New York City is now required to include a percentage of affordable units (or “affordable” units, since the formulas used mean that some apartments require tenants to earn $120,000 a year to qualify). And the renovations of the Seattle Center Arena (formerly KeyArena, and still widely known by that name despite Key Bank’s naming rights deal having expired years ago) for the city’s new NHL team have apparently found such a loophole:

The only exceptions are construction related to essential activities like health care, transportation, energy, defense and critical manufacturing; construction “to further a public purpose related to a public entity,” including publicly financed low-income housing; and emergency repairs.

KeyArena construction is exempt under the last two carve-outs, Leiweke said. The arena is a public facility, and time is short to reattach the arena’s 44-million-pound roof to its permanent support posts. The roof has been held up by temporary posts since late last year.

I am not an engineer by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hard to see how leaving the roof sitting atop temporary posts for a few extra weeks qualifies as an emergency. (If the temporary posts are really so rickety that they’re on the verge of collapse any day now, that seems maybe not entirely safe regardless?) A spokesperson for NHL Seattle called it a “delicate and precise undertaking” involving an “intricate compression system,” but neither of those phrases actually says that delaying the work would make it any more “delicate” or “intricate” or what have you.

And as for the arena being a “public facility,” yes, it’s owned by the city of Seattle, but it’s being renovated and will be operated by the private developers Oak View Group, who are even making payments in lieu of property taxes on it because it’s so clearly a private project using public property. It’s a “public property,” in other words, but not really a “public purpose,” but then we’ve already seen how far governments are willing to bend the definition of public purpose when it suits them.

What all this means is that Seattle’s NHL team will likely be able to launch in its new home in 2021, while the Islanders’ new arena is now even less likely to be ready by then. This is not a huge deal in the long run — teams can easily enough move a few games to alternate sites while construction is completed, especially in a world where moving teams temporarily to whole different cities is being seriously considered — but it’s worth noting if you’re an Islanders or Seattle NHL or Austin F.C. fan, if any of those exist in large numbers. (Just kidding about the Islanders. Mostly.)

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5 comments on “Seattle arena developers find loopholes to evade coronavirus construction ban

  1. Residents in our building spent a great deal of time and energy contacting our local, elected officials, along with filing complaints with DOB, concerning the ongoing renovations of apartments in our building. Thankfully it’s now been shut down but after a brief reprieve on Monday the construction workers were back at it on Tuesday wearing improper face masks, riding both elevators in the building, and with one fella wearing a green garbage bag over his work clothes as protection against coronavirus.

    P.S. I know it’s not exactly in your wheelhouse but I’m hoping that you’ll provide a take on Scared Heart’s push to upgrade their DI hockey programs, and the profile of the university, by building a new arena on campus.

    1. Who knew Bobby Valentine was now hockey maven? Considering they play at the rink in Bridgeport, $60 million seems like a hell of a lot of money to build a smaller facility.

  2. Oak View Group (OVG). I’ve heard that name before …..

  3. So the roof on the Coliseum is mounted on stilts while the construction continues beneath it. What makes zero sense is the Key Arena sign is still illuminated on the top of the roof. So Key Bank hasn’t paid anything, but they kept electrical service to the sign. Way to give out free advertising.

  4. Tend to agree with you on the so called emergency related to ‘temporary’ roof supports.

    Since the work has gone on for many, many months and in all seasons, there really isn’t any legitimate loading or safety reason why the temp columns can’t remain in place for a few more weeks/months as needed.

    If they were deteriorating for some reason the site would have been shut down until they could be repaired or replaced.

    What might be impacted is the overall construction schedule if the permanent roof isn’t in place (or at least secured to the permanent supports) by a given date. Delays on major components or targets tend to have relatively severe knock on effects in large construction projects (that said, I am not at all familiar with what they are doing to Key or what the schedule entails).

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