Want to check out the views from the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center? Sky View Observatory reopens after a remodel in the summer of 2018.
We’re not just entering the height of summer; we’re heading into the Summer of Heights.
As the Space Needle puts finishing touches on its upper- and open-air observation decks, the Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center is entering the elevation game with an expanded, $25 million renovation offering easy public access to sweeping Puget Sound views.
On June 28, a new entry and elevators will give visitors direct entry to the 73rd floor of Seattle’s tallest skyscraper, where they can not only marvel at the beauty of this place but get a true lay of the land.
The observation area also offers one of the best views of the Space Needle — across town and 400 feet below. The Space Needle’s observation deck is 520 feet up. Here, you’re standing 902 feet over downtown, with (on a clear day) 100-mile views in every direction.
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“This should be the first place you go when you get to Seattle and get your bearings straight,” said Jennifer Tucker, general manager of the observatory. “Rather than being a competitor with the Space Needle, we’re the place you start for help deciding where in the city you want to go.”
It’s also where you can be reminded of the wonder of our surroundings, away from head-tax debates and traffic, and where no one is looking at their phone. There’s just no competing with the view.
Bainbridge Island and beyond, ferries and water taxis cutting across Elliott Bay, Queen Anne Hill, Bellevue and Mount Rainier and landmarks galore. Cathedrals and hospitals. Lakes Washington and Union. The Smith Tower. CenturyLink Field, split open like a jewelry box. The Great Wheel. The viaduct. Taxis below, airplanes and helicopters seemingly at eye level. The floating bridges and the tops of every building in town.
“When you’re boots on the ground, it’s almost a tunnel vision,” Tucker said. “Up here, you’re free.”
Tickets went on sale June 1. Adult (14 and older) tickets are $20 online/$22 on-site; $17/$19 for seniors; $14/$16 for ages 5-13; and free for those 4 and under.
The observatory has always been up there on the 73rd floor, just difficult to find. When developer Martin Selig built the tower in 1985 — the tallest skyscraper in downtown Seattle — he was required to create a public space. Something more egalitarian than the members-only Columbia Tower Club two stories up, with a ladies’ lounge known not for its soap or commodes, but one of the best views in the city.
So he allowed for an observatory that had 270-degree views (expanded to 360 degrees last year.)
Not a lot of people knew about it. “There was a breadcrumb trail and a narrow floor,” Tucker said.
For a while, it cost just $5 to enter; now — through Monday evening, June 25, when it will close to prepare for the grand opening of the new entry and elevators — it costs $14.75.
In 2015, the tower was purchased for $711 million by a Hong Kong-based investment company, Gaw Capital Partners, which wanted to capitalize on the tower’s status as one of the tallest on the West Coast.
When the leases expired — tenants included Metro Traffic Control — renovations began.
The company has installed a new entrance on Fourth Avenue, removing a dark canopy and replacing it with a three-story glass wall and a wall of living greens.
Visitors will enter the ticket area, which includes a grand staircase made of oak and teak, and retail space.
Two elevators with screens on three sides will show a video of the origins and growth of Mount Rainier during the 70-second ride up.
“A million years in 70 seconds,” Tucker said.
Or, as the observatory’s website notes: “Ascend to Seattle’s highest peak … no hiking boots required.”
The Sky View Observatory will feature informational panels, large-screen monitors and Northwest music playing throughout. And there will be a cafe with small plates, craft beers, wines and spirits — and a featured cocktail called the Seattle 73 (get it?), which features Copperworks gin, lemon, huckleberry and sparkling wine.
The observatory will be open every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the summer. Tickets will be sold in 30-minute windows to manage flow, and if the observatory is at capacity, visitors can wait in the atrium area, or take a short walk to Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market or the waterfront and come back.
“Everything we do is in service of the view,” Tucker said. “You can’t lose sight of that.”
Up here at 902 feet, that’s pretty much impossible.