It’s finally here.
After years of political tension and city-wide debates, after exploding budgets and construction delays, after a pandemic that did whatever it could to halt the opening — Climate Pledge Arena is ready.
No doubt that the birth of the NHL’s Kraken has energized and galvanized a sports-obsessed city that finally has a pro team to cheer for in the winter. But you have to think this town is equally stoked about the arrival of a state-of-the-art arena.
After all, many probably felt like this day would never come. They saw Chris Hansen’s Sodo project repeatedly torpedoed and figured a shiny new building was nothing more than a pipe dream.
But with the renovation of the old KeyArena, customers can expect an experience commensurate with a world-class venue. At least that’s what Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke is selling.
“This building is going to change the industry,” Leiweke said. “This could be one of the top two or three buildings in the world.”
In late 2017, OVG won the bid over AEG — Leiweke’s former company — to renovate KeyArena. This came after Hansen, a Seattle native and hedge-fund manager, fought for years to construct his own building in Sodo.
Where the new arena — which fans hoped would lure an NHL and NBA team down the road — should be built became one of the more polarizing subjects in the city. In the end, though, Seattle Center proved to be the destination.
Although not without some stress.
The original budget for the remodel was at $650 million, a number that jumped to $850 million once the arena secured the Kraken. The budget has since jumped to over $1 billion, as Leiweke and Co. repeatedly sought additions they thought would enhance the fan experience. The project is all privately funded.
So what can those fans expect? From the sound of things, something unlike they’ve ever experienced before.
“I always chuckle, because there’s still a large portion of the Seattle that thinks we renovated the old KeyArena,” Leiweke said. “They’re going to walk in here, and except for the roof it is a sparkling, brand new arena.”
Leiweke praised the two “sustainability walls” on the lower concourse that detail the pledge to the climate and “pay tribute” to what the building has done to inspire people. He extolled that the arena has more LED boards than any arena in the world. He lauded the tightness of the bowl, the fact that the arena is carbon neutral and that the building is part of a 74-acre campus in the middle of one of the fastest growing cities in America.
Getting to this point, of course, was a long way from easy. Rising costs are a part of almost any arena or stadium project, as are construction delays. But in addition to ravaging the country over the past year and a half, COVID-19 did its best to prevent this building from opening in time for the start of the 2021-22 NHL season.
Leiweke said shipping has been a nightmare over this period. He called the pandemic “the greatest crisis in the history of construction in the arena business.”
But his group and everybody associated with the project— namely the Mortenson construction and engineering company — found a way to make it happen.
“I am shocked that our crew at Mortenson got through this, and that we’re opening up here essentially on time,” Leiweke said. “This is a feat of engineering to begin with to keep the roof, the historic roof, and build the new arena. But when you add what we all had to deal with with COVID, I’m in awe of Mortenson and the fact that we got this thing open.”
A Coldplay concert will headline Climate Pledge Arena’s grand opening Friday. The Kraken will make its home debut the following night. For the hometown fans, where the game will be played is likely as big a source of anticipation as the game itself.
“Everyone is really emotionally tied into making this thing spectacular,” Leiweke said. “This is probably the best group of people I’ve ever worked with, the most committed group I’ve ever worked with. … There’s a lot of really unique things about this building that make it special.”
This is a long time in the making. This is the culmination of years of stress and strife. But it’s finally — finally — here.