With the clock ticking, contractors for the 1-mile Seattle Center Monorail will gut and remodel both stations in anticipation of hockey fans riding the historic trains in October.

Waiting-area space will increase. Riders will pass through automatic fare gates, similar to those used by people walking onto state ferries. The new layouts should boost flow and capacity, compared to the old way where everybody walks past a ticketing booth.

Construction staging begins Monday, then monorail service will shut down from April 12 to 30 during the demolition phase of the project, said Tom Albro, owner of Seattle Monorail Services, private operator of the city-owned trains.

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He estimated that 4,000 fans among a sold-out crowd of 17,100 would ride the monorail to Climate Pledge Arena, home of the National Hockey League’s new Seattle Kraken franchise and the four-time WNBA champion Seattle Storm.

Transit use may benefit from the Kraken’s headquarters being built next to Northgate Station, a potential gathering place for hockey fans, where light-rail service begins in September, a 14-minute ride from Westlake.

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Westlake Center itself contains underground parking, as do other buildings near the monorail.

If the monorail’s nearly as popular as Albro says, pro hockey might be one catalyst to help revive Seattle’s bedraggled downtown, where visits dropped 59% last year due to coronavirus office closures, cruise-ship bans, vandalism, shoplifting and more visible homelessness. More than 163 businesses have permanently closed since the pandemic hit, the Downtown Seattle Association said last month.

To make space for more riders, the Westlake monorail station will expand into the interior of the Westlake Center shopping mall’s third floor, by tearing out an existing wall. Digital train-information signs, brighter lights and bigger awnings are planned.

Ticket booths will move to the fringes. Five automated gates are planned at Seattle Center (with a chrome, art deco look like the vintage trains) and six at Westlake. People with ORCA cards and pre-purchased tickets can show fare and board through all doors.

Kraken game tickets, being developed as a smartphone app, will double as Transit GO tickets on Sound Transit buses and light rail, but not Sounder commuter trains, said agency spokesperson John Gallagher. Metro bus fare will likewise be incorporated into game tickets and subsidized by the team, officials say.

Light-rail travelers arriving at Westlake Station can ascend through the mall escalators and transfer to monorail trains. To handle postgame surges, the escalators are being remodeled, so both can point downward late at night, Albro said. The company is hiring monorail operators, technicians and service agents.

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The remodeled Westlake monorail station would feature new awnings, and more walking space to board through eight train doors. (Image by VIA Architecture)

The station upgrades were designed by VIA Architecture, whose vast transit portfolio includes Vancouver, B.C., SkyTrain stations and Angle Lake Station in SeaTac.

The Kraken announced in February 2020 it would invest $6 million in monorail-station improvements. Team officials said only two other major sports teams, the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors, have similar transit partnerships.

On the other hand, initial forecasts by arena developers Oak View Group in 2017, said about 80% of visitors would arrive by car. Transit might become practical to more fans in 2024 when Lynnwood, Federal Way and Redmond light-rail extensions are done.

The group is scrapping the architects’ more ambitious plan, proposed in 2018, that would build exterior walkways in 2024 along the south corner of the mall building.

That’s mainly because mall executives insisted on bringing arena crowds through their property to encourage retail business, according to Albro.