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Can KeyArena Be Transformed Into Suitable Venue For NBA And NHL Games?

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
2013 file photo of KeyArena in Seattle.

With word this week that Seattle’s KeyArena will host next year’s WNBA All-Star Game for the first time, there are new developments in the effort to make that venue suitable for the NBA and NHL. Meanwhile, plans to build a proposed sports arena in Seattle’s SoDo District continue.

The latest from knkx sports commentator Art Thiel and 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick.

2017 Deadlines

"There are two deadlines coming up in the new year - in 2017," Thiel noted. "In November, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is up for reelection and the memorandum of understanding between arena developer Chris Hansen and the city and county expires.

"So there's an urgency now taking place that both parties see as essential to get something going."

Changes In SoDo Proposal

"Hansen's been trying for five years to build the SoDo project and he's taken on additional public firepower with the adding of [Seahawks quarterback] Russell Wilson to the partnership group," Thiel continued.

"They seek a second hearing in front of the Seattle City Council. You may remember in May the council voted 5-4 to deny the permitting for a street vacation - Occidental Avenue, which is where the arena would reside.

"They propose to do something different with their project this time - no public money. And then they also have a bunch of other public amenities that they want to enhance the project with in SoDo."

Possible Rebuild Of KeyArena

"But the new group has great intrigue, I think, for a lot of people because it's a Los Angeles company with considerable chops in the arena building business," Thiel said.

"It's called the Oak View Group. They propose to rebuild KeyArena in its current footprint and privately own it and operate it and lease the grounds from the city of Seattle. No [public] money spent on its project.

"It's only at the beginning stages here because the mayor is going to put out a request for bids [next month] for anybody interested. This company will submit a bid and there may be others.

"The CEO of Oak View is a guy named Tim Leiweke. He's the brother of Todd Leiweke who was the CEO of the Seahawks and currently is the COO of the NFL.

"Tim was in Seattle this week campaigning for his proposal, which offered a number of things that we did not know before: complete private ownership and a willingness to spend millions of dollars answering the mayor's request for a proposal that will tell us whether a building can be operated profitably for a private entrepreneur and fit in the footprint as well as in the community."

Is There Room?

"The biggest issue is traffic and parking," Thiel said. "As we all know, Seattle Center sits in an urban community - Lower Queen Anne - and all the residents there are concerned about the impacts of having a new arena that potentially could have 80-90 pro-sports sellouts per year.

"It would be a major shift in the usage of Seattle Center. But, as the Oak View Group says now, there will be three more east-west streets opening up after Bertha is done digging the tunnel, [SR] 99 goes away, and the landscape of Lower Queen Anne will change dramatically for both traffic and residences by the time that's through.

"So they have to think about that as well as the technological changes that will be happening with sports consumers in the very near future with the advent of virtual reality - the ability to watch games with a headset as if you were sitting at courtside.

"So, high drama awaits the city of Seattle as these two competitors fight it out to put an arena here."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.