The Space Needle is open again — and if you’ve typically kept away because of tourists and crowds, this might be a good time to visit.

Seattle’s skyline-defining tourist attraction recently completed $1 million in coronavirus-oriented upgrades and is beginning to allow visitors on a limited, socially distant basis this week after a soft friends-and-family opening that began last month. There’s been no advertising yet, but nonetheless people have made their way to the Seattle Center destination.

“I was surprised,” said Karen Olson, the Space Needle’s chief operating officer and chief marketing officer. “Everyone I’ve talked to has been either out of state or some people from out of country having summer vacation. And there’s not a lot to do. They can go to the Market or the waterfront. So they can see Seattle (from the top of the Needle) with no crowds. It’s kind of like they bought the whole place.”

New hours, ticket information and details about safety upgrades are available on the Needle’s website, and there is a discount for Washington state residents. 

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The Space Needle closed to the public in mid-March, as the coronavirus was spreading throughout Washington and details about the virus were a little fuzzy. At that point, Olson said, Needle officials made a series of decisions that have ended up paying dividends. They decided to focus on air quality, sanitation and touchless procedures. Three months later, we understand that the virus can be spread through aerosols and on surfaces.

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They installed ultraviolet lights designed to kill airborne viruses like the coronavirus and bacteria in the air-handling systems. Forced air is sometimes exposed twice to two different kinds of light — UV-C and far-UV-C. The Space Needle’s claustrophobia-inducing elevators use fresh air for circulation. They’ve also eliminated the use of cash, even installing reverse-ATM kiosks that will convert cash into a card.

Olson said they’ve focused on “redundant layers of safety, so it doesn’t rely on one technology or one person or one process.”

The Space Needle, a remnant of the 1962 World’s Fair that’s privately owned, assembled a team of engineers, project managers, operations, human resources professionals and researchers shortly after the lockdown, Olson said. Workers were “kind of geeky” about solving problems.

“When we first closed, we looked at all the touch points. So they had touch points between what a team member touched and what our guests touched and we got over a thousand between the two properties,” Olson said, referring to the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass — both owned by Space Needle Corporation. “So we went through and we mitigated each touch point and made it touchless or ‘touch less’ with a cleaning protocol around it. But we really focused in on how to have a safer experience, and not just for guests, but for team members and guests.”

They also bought 250,000 surgical masks to hand out to patrons – 2½ months before state mask mandates were put in place.

“We were just going to give every guest a mask and then 10 weeks later it is required,” Olson said. “Luckily, we had overinvested in that anyway.”

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The state has inspected and signed off on the upgrades, Olson said. Those interested in visiting the Needle are asked to visit the website and pre-purchase tickets. While tickets are also available on site, visitors can have a truly touchless experience if they buy ahead of time.

Olson said Needle personnel believe they are ahead of the curve for tourist attractions and other businesses that handle large crowds in the post-pandemic world.

“This is kind of a new normal for safe air for public spaces,” she said.