Seattle official: City is open to complete rebuild of KeyArena, as long as it’s not designated historic

Jan 11, 2017, 12:23 PM
Mayor Ed Murray...
The redevelopment opportunity for KeyArena extends south of the current facility, according to Brian Surratt, director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development. (AP)

The City of Seattle is open to knocking down KeyArena and doing a complete rebuild on the site, assuming it’s not designated as historic, according to the Request for Proposal (RFP) released Wednesday.

The RFP asks for proposals from “qualified parties interested in redeveloping and operating KeyArena at Seattle Center as a world-class civic arena presenting music, entertainment, and sports events, including the potential for NBA and NHL events.” As Mayor Murray has previously stated, the proposed redevelopment must be 100 percent privately financed. Chris Hansen’s group, which hopes to build a new arena in SoDo, announced in October that it would fund entirely without public money.

Brian Surratt, director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, told “Brock and Salk” Wednesday that the city is expecting multiple bids, including from concert giant AEG, Oak View development group (which is headed by sports executive Tim Leiweke), and, they hope, others. He said the proposals will be due back April 12 – three months from Thursday. Surat said the city will then review those proposals and the goal is to deliver recommendations to Mayor Ed Murray by “the end of June.” He noted that the RFP asks that bidders meet minimum requirements for both NBA and NHL.

Surratt said it’s important that the public realize that this RFP is “great news for Seattle and this region” and that having “potentially two or three very influential folks” who are serious about investing in the community and building a world class arena is a win-win for everyone.

“The fact that we have two very legitimate, very respected folks in this industry who approached us and were kicking the tires and said this could make sense for us,” he said. “And as owners of a very valuable public asset, we felt obligated to better understand what those opportunities are. We’re not sending this RFP out in a lark. We’re very serious about going down this path and understanding what’s there.”

In recent years, the specter of KeyArena’s redevelopment was viewed as a red herring to the development proposals by Chris Hansen’s group in SoDo. But over the last couple of months, a few big names have turned up, including Leiweke, who explained his goals to “Brock and Salk” in December.

Surratt said the City wants to understand the “full spectrum” of opportunities, which is why the RFP asks proposers to submit two plans: One if KeyArena is designated a historic landmark and another to tear down the existing venue and build a new one. The Seattle Times reported that a 2013 study for Seattle Center found that KeyArena meets all of the criteria to become a Seattle landmark.

“Currently KeyArena is not designated as a Historic Landmark but I also want to let folks know that is over 50 years old and it was one of the original buildings from the World’s Fair and we want to make sure that we understand what that designation could look like for KeyArena is if it does get recognized as a landmark,” Surratt said. “So we are requiring any bidder to make sure that their designs recognize the historic nature of KeyArena and we also are welcoming investors and bidders to come with a new concept that doesn’t have that historic designation. We want to see the full spectrum of opportunities that are available for us.”

If the 55-year-old arena is not designated as historic, though, he acknowledged that the City is open to starting from scratch.

“We would love to see what those possibilities look like,” he said.

Surratt said the City believes there is enough land in Seattle Center to build to the necessary specifications and codes for today’s arenas, using the recently opened Golden 1 Center in Sacramento as an example of the NBA’s current needs. That arena has a basketball capacity of just over 17,600 and 19,000 for concerts. Surratt noted that the city has a strong relationship with KEXP, The Vera Project and SIFF, which are located just north of KeyArena at Seattle Center and not part of the redevelopment site, which includes the existing arena and a parking garage along First Avenue North, as well as adjacent parking and support areas on the Seattle Center campus.

“The redevelopment opportunity extends south of the current facility,” he said. “We believe that there is enough room and if you look at the Sacramento arena, for example, in many ways that is the model going forward when you talk about NBA or NHL arena design. We don’t have to necessarily have 20,000, 25,000-seated arenas anymore. So we’re really curious to see what these bidders have in mind.”

“This is really important for Seattle and this region to recognize that we are a hot market,” Surratt added. “We are a hot entertainment and music market, we are a dynamic sports market. We should not just settle for just one or two options.”

Surratt said that transportation impacts are a big part of the RFP, with the city asking bidders to come up with transportation mitigation strategies and potentially any financial commitments they could make to address those issues. He noted that transportation is the No. 1 issue in this region.

“The voters, they backed Sound Transit 3 and are investing in transit and there will be a light-rail station at KeyArena,” he said. “And we have an opportunity to really invest in our infrastructure and make sure that all of our assets can be reached by folks throughout the region.”

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Seattle official: City is open to complete rebuild of KeyArena, as long as it’s not designated historic