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Under iconic roof, KeyArena redevelopers dig to achieve 'intimate' bowl

Progress continues on the redevelopment of Seattle's KeyArena. Officials say they're on track to finish the project by summer 2021. 

Crews are working around the clock to build the $900 million project. They spend the day digging below the iconic roof while trucks haul out hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of dirt by night.

"I think it's safe to say that this is really unique," said Ken Johnsen, construction vice president for developer Oak View Group.

The project is unique because of the arena's iconic parabolic roof. The roof is landmark protected, so the 44-million-pound structure is being held up by temporary metal columns while crews work beneath it. 

"This is a one-of-a-kind of this size of a roof, this weight of a roof, being held in place while you're building this big of a building underneath it," Johnsen said.

KeyArena's angled windows also are landmark protected. They're being held in a Kent warehouse.

As of Tuesday, crews have finished digging about 70 feet in the northeastern corner part of the construction site and started laying a new foundation. About three quarters of the total digging is done, Johnsen says. The idea is to dig down, then build up to attach the new construction to the roof's original columns.

Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX
More earth beneath KeyArena will need to be removed before crews can begin building the area and attach the roof.

For eventual arena guests, the result will be a steep bowl. People will enter at street level and most seats will require a walk down rather than a climb. The new arena will seat between 17,000-18,000 people for sports events, a modest increase from KeyArena's 15,000-17,000.

"It's going to feel really intimate," Johnsen said. "The subterranean nature of the seats is going to make it fun."

Seattle was awarded a National Hockey League expansion team in late 2018. The arena is set to open before the 2021-22 season.

Alaska Airlines announced last week it had secured the naming rights for the atrium being designed as the main entrance for the arena. A separate naming rights deal is expected for the arena itself.

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.