The West Coast’s ginned-up professional sports team expansion atmosphere has finally spread to Seattle, where Los Angeles–based developer Oak View Group and architects Populous are looking to renovate the city’s storied KeyArena with the hope of bringing several professional sports teams to town.
After years of trying to build a totally new stadium in a different neighborhood in anticipation of a new National Hockey League (NHL) franchise, city leaders changed course in 2017, opting instead to greenlight the renovation of the historic KeyArena complex. The change of plans worked—after the city approved the renovation plan, the NHL announced it would bring a new team to Seattle for the 2020 season, cementing KeyArena as the lynchpin of a revitalized Seattle Center sports district.
Populous will repurpose and expand the existing arena, which was designed by architect Paul Thiry in 1962 as the Washington State Pavilion for the Century 21 Exposition. The arena hosted the Seattle Supersonics NBA team until the franchise relocated in 2008. The arena is still in use, however, and currently hosts Seattle’s WNBA franchise, among other tenants. The arena was refurbished and expanded once before in 1994 by NBBJ when the architects dropped the arena floor 35 feet below street level and boosted seating capacity by 3,000 seats. Still, problems with inadequate sight lines from the stands, limited opportunities for concession offerings, few club spaces, and deferred maintenance lingered at the venue.
With the forthcoming redesign, the architects are seeking to rectify those shortfalls while preserving the iconic spaceship-like structure by digging 15 feet further down in order to expand the facility to 600,000 square feet in size and add even more seating. The new designs would create flexible seating configurations that will resolve the sightline issues while also providing enough seating to host the NHL team as well as the potentially forthcoming NBA team.
In all, the new arena is planned to hold up to 17,100 seats for hockey games, 18,350 seats for basketball games, and between 16,940 to 19,100 seats for music concerts. The project is billed as a top-shelf preservation effort as well, and will be designed to meet the historic preservation standards for building restoration. The end result will be a more-or-less wholly new arena, capped by a restored sculptural concrete roof.
An environmental impact review is currently underway for the renovations. The City of Seattle hopes to finish the review sometime this year so that construction can commence and the renovated facilities can open in time for the 2020 NHL season.