It was a dream more than three years in the making, save for a little hammering and some construction dust.
Chris Smith, 38, and his wife, Jennifer, 36, like many hockey fans, were hopeful in March 2018 when putting down four initial $500 deposits for Kraken season tickets. On Friday morning, the Renton couple got a taste of what those deposits bought, becoming the first fans to sit in their actual Climate Pledge Arena seats.
“I had seen a rendering picture last summer when we went to put the (remaining) deposit down,” Chris Smith said after testing out the gray fabric seats near the blue line in the revamped arena’s upper 400 level. “It’s so different now, though. The sightlines are awesome.”
The former KeyArena has been overhauled by the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group for a privately funded cost now expected to exceed $1 billion. One of the biggest improvements is the steeper grade of seat sections, leaving better sightlines throughout — including the higher levels where the Smiths’ four seats are located. Those seats, installed Friday, were the first of more than 17,000 to come as the Kraken prepares for the 2021-22 NHL season, which the league is planning to begin Oct. 12, according to reports.
The arena’s official reopening target is some point in October. The NHL may want the Kraken to open at home as a possible showpiece broadcast for its new ESPN national television partner, though the team may prefer starting with a couple of road games to take pressure off its players.
The latter scenario offers the arena project some wiggle room for completion. Ken Johnsen, the construction executive overseeing the project, said Friday that more than 1,000 workers a day are keeping things on schedule for an October opening that has been narrowed to within a two-week window. Coolant pipes have been installed on the oval-shaped arena rink, and the concrete slab is scheduled to be poured atop it May 7.
Meanwhile, the first overseas shipment of 700 seats, manufactured by Australian company Camatic, arrived Thursday. Another 2,800 are on their way and expected within a week or two.
The team is inviting some initial deposit holders to view their seats as they are installed and unveiled.
On Friday, Jennifer Smith, pushing a stroller with the couple’s daughter, Isabella, 2, — not yet born when they made their initial seat deposits — remembered their excitement at getting the $500 payments down so quickly.
“We were somewhere in the top 500,” she said of the day when fans made 10,000 deposits the first 12 minutes and crashed the online system. “We couldn’t believe it.”
She was most impressed by the natural light within the overhauled arena, which has a wall of glass windows on its northern end and parts of the glass atrium entryway visible on the southern side.
Chris Smith pointed to the arena’s eastern-side entry doors just behind his section of seats, leading out toward Seattle Center. He remembered the couple going to a Paul Simon concert at KeyArena just before it closed for construction while she was pregnant with their daughter.
“You used to have to walk upstairs to get inside and then take more stairs to get to the upper levels,” he said. “Now you just walk in on flat ground, and you’re right there.’’
The revamped arena’s floor was dug 15 feet deeper than the original to a point 53 feet below ground, meaning the highest sections are now at street level.
A year ago, the arena’s 44-million-pound roof was being partially suspended by temporary posts, and steel walls were in the midst of being built. Today, all exterior work is done, and the focus is on the seating and other interior finishes.
Greg Huber, the project executive for lead arena contractor Mortenson, on Friday pointed to pre-installed beams lining the backs of each row of the concrete grandstands. In the past, he said, individual seats would need to be assembled on site and fastened into the concrete with a drill and bolts.
Now they are premanufactured, factory shipped and fastened directly to the pre-installed beams with hooks instead of by drilling.
“It’s a lot less labor intensive and makes for a longer seat life, because there’s less wear and tear getting them built and put in,” Huber said.
Interior work has begun in some arena suites and club areas, as well as restaurants and concessions stands.
“There’s a lot of tile in the building, ceramic tile,” Huber said. “The mill work, cabinetry is being done. A lot of countertops and specialty flooring.”
The steel framing for two giant scoreboards overhanging at each end of the rink has also been put in, as has the ribbon board that will encircle the arena bowl. A Kraken flag hangs atop the rafters, as does a flag for the WNBA’s Storm, which also will play its home games in the arena.
Johnsen said getting the arena’s underground tunnel finalized was a major step in speeding up construction. He started breathing easier once the former KeyArena exterior windows — which had to be removed and stored while the roof was suspended — were finally reinstalled.
“I’ll admit, I was going ‘What’s going to happen now?’ Is it all going to fit?’ ” Johnsen said.
The windows did fit back into the rebuilt walls of the arena’s widened footprint, leaving only the interiors to complete.
And the Smiths are now eagerly awaiting the final product. They’ve been longtime hockey fans of the junior Seattle Thunderbirds in Kent and enjoy visiting Vancouver for Canucks games.
“Now we get to finally join the big leagues here,” Chris Smith said. “I can’t wait for opening night.”