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Once more, with feeling: KeyArena will never be a suitable NBA arena again

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Even the KeyArena site is not viable without major, MAJOR renovations

NCAA Womens Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Tournament-California vs UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In the words of Michael Bluth, “I don’t know what I expected.”

I honestly didn’t think we’d have to have this conversation again. Yet, here we are. According to a new report by KIRO’s Mike Lewis;

Mayor Ed Murray’s office has not abandoned the idea that The Key still holds promise as a major sports arena – particularly if a developer has the option of completely tearing down the existing structure and building something entirely new.

Sigh. Consider this your latest reminder that KeyArena is not now, nor was it in 2007, nor will it ever again be, an NBA viable arena. Hell, at this point, we should consider ourselves lucky that the Seattle Storm haven’t up and moved to Omaha, Nebraska (who we’ll talk more about later) due to the Key’s sub par amenities. Lewis breaks down some, not all, of the biggest issues with a KeyArena redux, including;

  • A new Environmental Impact Statement would focus on traffic and accessibility issues. Despite Seattle Center’s proximity to several bus lines being a selling point for city officials, Lewis says these issues “have no clear solutions.” I would instead call these issues - and parking as well - “a f***ing nightmare.”
  • According to Lewis, “No city official at this time has said he or she is willing to wade into the political buzz saw of proposing to sell off a section of Seattle Center to a private developer.” On top of that, no one wants it. Remember when then-mayor Mike McGinn offered KeyArena to Chris Hansen for FREE? He passed. Why? Traffic concerns (see: “a f***ing nightmare”).
  • Lewis says the NBA is “frosty” on KeyArena. He also says they have no enthusiasm for Seattle, which we have been told is false, but I digress.
  • Expedia is moving in less than two miles from the Key in 2019. Think traffic is “a f***ing nightmare” now? Add another 3,000 people. We’re talking Freddy Krueger levels of dread.

Taking a look at all 30 current NBA venues, we see that KeyArena would rank dead last by any measure, except for capacity, where it would be above just the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, which is over 200,000 square feet larger. This means that the Pelicans’ home has wider, more comfortable, concourses and better concessions. You also don’t have to repel down the stairs because they’re so steep.

The list below is currently sorted by square footage, where KeyArena sits behind two arenas that will be replaced by the end of the decade. I also included Hansen’s proposed SoDo on this list so you can see where it would rank.

In the expansion article linked above, we discussed a number of cities that could be looking to put in a bid, should the league decide to grow. Let’s see how both KeyArena and Hansen’s SoDo arena would compare to venues in those cities. This list, again, is sorted by square footage.

Now, the most interesting part of Lewis’s piece is the notion of “a developer [having] the option of completely tearing down the existing structure and building something entirely new.” That also comes with its fair share of logistical issues, not the least of which would be those who want to make KeyArena a historical landmark.

On top of that, the area of land that KeyArena currently sits on (or in, rather, as half the building is underground) is approximately 162,000 square feet. Comparatively, Hansen’s parcel of land is roughly 390,000 square feet in area. Even Oracle Arena, the current smallest NBA building until it gets replaced in 2019, sits on a plot of land over 200,000 square feet. In order to create a modern, state-of-the-art building, it would be more likely that a developer would need to raze KeyArena, the Seattle Storm team store, the Vera Project, the A/NT gallery, the SIFF Film Center, and KEXP - who just moved in last December. That’s a lot more property that will need to be purchased, and a lot more construction that will need to be done. Even then, the questions of traffic and parking are still unanswered.

It would take a near tear down and rebuild of the entire Lower Queen Anne neighborhood in order to create a building that could match up to what Hansen has planned in SoDo, in addition to parking structures and transit improvements. At that point, what kind of costs are being accrued? And who is paying them? Of all the problems that a KeyArena location has, the biggest one of all is that no one - not one single person - has looked at it and said “yes, I want to invest my money in building a major sports and entertainment venue here.”

A better investment (by the way, Chris Hansen has pledged $7 million towards KeyArena - the only money pledged towards KeyArena - in the Memorandum of Understanding for his arena) would be to re-purpose the arena into a smaller events center. Take out several thousand seats to expand the concourses and aisle ways. Make it a more comfortable venue for smaller attractions such as the Rat City Rollergirls, local concerts, and trade shows. By doing this, you can lower the overhead cost of running the arena while maintaining a busy calendar. With some work, KeyArena can still be a great mid-level facility.

The other option is allowing a new arena to be built somewhere like Tukwila, or simply losing events all together because of an inadequate venue, and having those dollars leave the city completely.