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KeyArena developers remain optimistic, despite higher costs and longer timeline

Officials behind the transformation of KeyArena remain optimistic about the project, despite newly reported cost increases and a longer timeline.

Construction on the arena broke ground late last year. The project is privately financed by Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG).

The Seattle Times first reported, and officials confirmed Thursday, that the project is now expected to cost $900 million with completion during the summer of 2021. Initial costs were estimated at $600 million with a goal to open by October 2020.

"Every step of the way the ownership group has said, 'Do it right,'" said OVG-Seattle Construction Executive Ken Johnsen during a media tour of the project site. "And yes the costs have gone up a little bit."

"A lot of bit," Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke chimed in.

"But that group never sort of blinked," Johnsen continued. "We're not going to go back to the public sector and say 'oh jeez, the costs are up.'"

Seattle was awarded a National Hockey League franchise in December. It became clear at that point the KeyArena work would not be done in time for the 2020-21 NHL season.

But the longer timeline has potential consequences for the arena's other tenant.

The WNBA season begins in late spring. The Storm already were planning to play their home games at other local arenas for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. But the latest construction timeline could keep the team out of KeyArena for much of the 2021 season, too.

"We have an agreement with the contractor that this project will be delivered in the summer of 2021," Leiweke said. "We hope that's early summer, and it's very important to us."

Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke addresses reporters during a hard-hate media tour on Thursday.
Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX
Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke addresses reporters during a hard-hat media tour on Thursday.

Despite the setbacks, Johnsen and Leiweke were excited to show reporters and photographers around the construction site.

"We're building what we believe will be the best arena in the country," Johnsen said.

Johnsen and others emphasized the depth and steepness of the future arena, which they say will create an intimate feeling. Most of the major construction will consist of digging down another 15 feet and will take place under the arena's iconic roof.

To accomplish that task, the roof will have to be lifted onto temporary steel beams. Johnsen put the weight of the roof at 44 million pounds, which is equivalent to about 2,700 large orcas or just over 100 blue whales.

Visitors will notice a lot of changes to the finished arena. But one thing that may not be as obvious is the capacity increase.

KeyArena seated just over 17,000 basketball fans and 15,000 ice hockey fans. The reconstruction will put capacity around 18,000 for basketball and more than 17,000 for hockey. Music seating will depend on the arrangement.

OVG has put together a preview center on Second Avenue North featuring a model of the new arena construction. The center is expected to open to the public later this fall.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.