Putting a boutique Green Lake company in charge of staging a televised “party” at Gas Works Park to celebrate the Kraken picking players in the NHL expansion draft didn’t happen overnight.
Hotopp Associates launched nearly four decades ago when its late founder, award-winning Broadway set designer Michael Hotopp, wanted to branch into television, corporate theater and themed entertainment work. That has since morphed into an array of creative endeavors in the corporate and entertainment worlds, and increasingly in hockey due to a relationship between the company’s owner and the NHL’s top executive handling live events.
Hotopp CEO Gary Wichansky, who joined the company in 2001 and bought it from Michael Hotopp in 2013, had worked at IMG with current NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer, and his company later worked with him on the league’s Winter Classic outdoor game several years back.
That led to Hotopp Associates being hired for physical production work at last summer’s NHL playoffs in COVID-19 “bubble” zones in Edmonton and Toronto, and now in creating and implementing the Gas Works Park stages and sets for Wednesday’s league-produced expansion draft telecast on ESPN2.
“We do entertainment and experience and design production for all kinds of stuff — not just sports,” Wichansky said as workers finalized sets Tuesday ahead of park gates opening Wednesday afternoon to about 4,000 fans with tickets. “We do a lot of corporate work, we do a lot of holiday attractions and things like that.
“Right now we’ve just been in a groove where we’re doing a lot of these sports-related entertainment projects. But my background is actually in the theater. We’ve got architects, we’ve got interior designers. And we’re a small group. But it’s eclectic.”
Michael Hotopp, who was still a consultant when he died in November at age 74, had relocated the company’s headquarters from New York to Seattle around 2005.
The company has 10 permanent employees and builds out teams for various projects through partners and vendors. Its work ranges from carved-ice attractions for Marriott hotels nationwide, to “destination theming” at various ports for a major cruise line, set designs for SeaWorld and staging corporate meetings events for Fortune 500 companies.
“I think we have a profession that nobody knows really existed,” Wichansky said. “We refer to it as something where you can hire your own team of ‘imagineers,’ and that’s sort of what we do. We become a staff extension for somebody like the NHL and the Kraken. We take all of the fun stuff that they’re trying to figure out how to do, and we design it, engineer it and produce it.”
Hotopp helped the NHL and Kraken figure out how best to showcase the expansion draft as a stand-alone event. Four years ago, when the Vegas Golden Knights did their draft, it was combined with the NHL’s annual awards show.
This time the league wanted something that would truly showcase Seattle to the hockey world.
“They’ve had events like this in Gas Works before — in a couple of different places,” Wichansky said. “But I think the place we’re doing it is unique because it was really important to us to set up the stage structure in a way that really frames the city for the TV show.”
They also came up with the idea of inviting boaters to “Sail-gate” at the event in adjacent Lake Union, where prizes will be given out for the best Kraken-themed watercraft.
“We want this to feel like a bit of a party — a celebration, if you will,” Wichansky said. “It’s Seattle, it’s summertime, and we’re outdoors. I can’t think of a better way to bring in this new team.”