KeyArena’s reopening is expected to be pushed back at least two months, to late summer of 2021, because of coronavirus-related slowdowns, NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said Tuesday.
A Seattle Times tour of the $930 million privately-funded project showed new concrete walls erected throughout the majority of the venue, steel framing for concourses taking shape and work started on an underground VIP parking garage.
But while construction has continued almost daily since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, some delays acquiring building materials and the challenges of working around enhanced safety measures likely will push the reopening back from June 1, 2021 to August to mid-September.
“We early on had some aspirations, but there’s no question the supply lines and other challenges have brought some delay,” Leiweke said. “But I am so appreciative of the men and women who strap it on every day — including a face mask — and come here and build this. And they’re building it with great pride.”
The newly envisioned time frame means the WNBA’s Seattle Storm will have to play at least part of the 2021 season in temporary facilities, as it has been doing since last year. Leiweke said the team has remained in close contact with the Storm and kept it updated on the shifting timeline.
NHL Seattle won’t need the venue until its on-ice debut in October of next year, and Leiweke said he doesn’t foresee issues there.
“It will certainly be the summer of 2021 — the question is when,” Leiweke said. “Will it be August? Will it be Sept. 1? Will it be Sept. 15? It’s somewhere in there.”
NHL seasons typically begin in early October, though there’s been talk — given the current coronavirus shutdown — of the league permanently pushing things back to a November or December start date and extending deeper into summer.
There’s no chance now of Seattle hosting next June’s NHL draft and expansion draft.
As for the team, Leiweke said plans to announce a name have been put off indefinitely and might not happen until fall as work continues on “a myriad of issues” related to trademarking. The team has begun initial design work on logos and uniforms for a variety of potential names.
“If you do just one (name), then you’ve left yourself hostage to any sort of challenge,” he said, adding that every name of the thousand or so suggested by fans the past two years had some sort of trademark issue that needed working through. “So we’ve had to do multiple (trade)marks, and that’s about where we are.”
He added that the ongoing pandemic and police-brutality protests make it unlikely the team will make any major announcements in the near term.
“It’s not the right time,” Leiweke said, adding the team could wait until October. “Vegas did it a year out. We’ve got ample time, and the thing this organization will never be is tone deaf. So we’ve got to pick the right time, and we’ve got to make sure all of our ducks are in a row.”
Leiweke said the team has had ongoing discussions with employees about racial sensitivity and areas in which it can improve as an organization in the wake of the protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
NHL Seattle told employees Tuesday that June 19 will be made a permanent team holiday to commemorate “Juneteenth” — the date in 1865 when Black slaves in Texas learned they were free.
Walking through the KeyArena site Tuesday, Leiweke expressed optimism about what lies ahead for his team and the rebuilt arena. He said the added time being spent on construction has allowed the team to explore incorporating more environmental “sustainability” within the design to reduce the impact of large events.
Workers at the KeyArena site were seen donning masks, safety goggles and gloves and staying socially distanced for the most part. There are also separate, one-way stairwells in place to enter and leave the project site — the arena floor is 53 feet below street level — so workers don’t have to cross paths in close proximity.
All but a handful of the arena’s 22 original concrete-encased “Y” columns used to hold up the arena’s 44 million-pound roof have been rebuilt and reattached. Crews initially had to cut down the columns — leaving the Y-shaped top portions dangling rebar from the roof — so they wouldn’t be in the way as a wider footprint was dug sideways to double the venue’s square footage to more than 800,000.
Once all the columns are reattached, the 72 temporary orange-colored support posts holding the roof up since January will be removed.
The concrete walls of a subterranean VIP parking garage in the arena’s southwest quadrant also are more than halfway completed. Leiweke said discussions have begun about how some of the arena’s digital infrastructure — including its two giant scoreboards hanging over opposite ends of the ice rink — will be implemented.
“It’s really going to be extraordinary,” he said. “Early on it might have sounded like hyperbole to say it’s going to be one of the most beautiful arenas in the world. (But) I can in a very declaratory way say it’s going to be the most beautiful arena in the world.”