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The arena arms race

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Seattle Arena, Northwest Arena, and now Key Arena battle for supremacy

Seattle Arena Rendering

With yesterday’s news of a Request For Proposal being issued to renovate Key Arena into a worthy venue, and the subsequent news of two major parties wanting to do so, the Seattle Center arena has jumped into the race to be the future home of the NBA and NHL. So where does that put them, and us?

In third but with the inside track: Key Arena

Key Arena
Key Arena

Major players: Anschultz Entertainment Group, Oak View Group

Money pledged to date: $0

Pros: The biggest pro that Key Arena has is that the Seattle City Council is in love with it. It’s a city owned asset and sits at the heart of Seattle Center. There would seemingly be less red tape here than other locations. There’s also already not just a building there, but an actual basketball arena, so the reviews wouldn’t need to be as extensive as other areas. Another big pro is the names involved. One party is Anschultz Entertainment Group, or AEG, who already operates the Key for the city. They also own and/or operate a number of other arenas around the country, including LA’s Staples Center, Kansas City’s Sprint Center, and the Target Center in Minneapolis. The other group is the Oak View Group, run by former Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO (and former AEG President, ironically) Tim Leiweke and MSG Entertainment partner Irving Azoff. They also have ties to arenas around the country, namely the Pepsi Center in Denver, the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, and Madison Square Garden in New York. Both of these groups have deep pockets and a ton of clout in the arena industry.

Cons: First of all, no one has committed to anything. This is still just a feasibility study, and we won’t know what, if anything, anyone is committing to until January at the earliest. It’s possible nothing comes of this at all.

Other cons (that they may discover in their study) including the fact that Key Arena is still in the middle of a neighborhood. That area is still a traffic nightmare, even when there are no events at the Key. There’s still nowhere to park. In fact, there’s even less places to park than there was in 2007, with several parking garages being transformed into the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and several more being turned into apartments and condos. There are several buses that go to Seattle Center, as well as the monorail, but there is no light rail coming until 2035 and that’s only if ST3 passes. There’s also the issue of how to make the arena viable. Leiweke has stated that his group’s preference is to keep the existing structure in tact, but he did admit that it would take more than the $285 million stated in the famed AECOM report to make it work.

In second but falling behind: Northwest Arena

Northwest Arena
Northwest Arena

Major players: Ray Bartoszek

Money pledged to date: <$1 million

Pros: It’s not in Seattle so the bureaucratic red tape would, seemingly, be much easier to break through. Ray Bartoszek already has options on all of the land. Um... that’s about it. Oh, and he’s got some plans that look like the Moda Center.

Cons: Bartoszek doesn’t own the land, just options to purchase it. The bigger issue is that Bartoszek lost his lead investor and has yet to find a new one. We’re also not entirely sure of the arena’s current status. We heard that this was going to be put on a fast track in May of 2015 when the Environmental Impact Study was applied for and since then we’ve heard... nothing, at least publicly, other than Bartoszek paying $63,000 to extend his options. Behind the scenes, Bartoszek claims he is still working on it. To what degree remains unseen. Another big con is that this is in the suburbs and traffic and transit are going to be an issue. There is a Sounder train station nearby, but there would have to be special trips added to the schedule, as there are with Seahawk and Sounder game days currently.

In first by a mile: Seattle Arena

seattlearena
Seattle Arena

Major players: Chris Hansen, Pete Nordstrom, Erik Nordstrom, Wally Walker

Money pledged to date: ~$123 million

Pros: WSA Properties, the group’s real estate arm, already owns all of the land for the arena, plus another 8+ acres for a parking garage and other development. They have a fully fleshed out arena plan, including blueprints and renderings, that has been approved by the Seattle Design Commission as well as the Seattle Department of Transportation. The developers have offered to pay for the entire thing, estimated at $490 million, out of pocket plus contribute significant money to the Lander Street overpass project.

Cons: Occidental Avenue S. If it wasn’t for this one block stretch of road, this arena might already be built and we could be watching the NBA tip off as we speak. The Port of Seattle doesn’t want to give it up because it’s an important “release valve” for their trucks. That means they don’t actually use it, but want to be able to in case they ever need to. They also believe that an arena would cause too much traffic for them to do business, despite arena hours being at times when the Port is closed. A majority of the Seattle Council agreed with them.

Since then, though, Hansen’s group has pledged to privately finance the arena and has also purchased more Sodo land. Whether or not it will make a difference will be seen when his new application for street vacation gets taken up by the council, expected to be in... yep, January.


In conclusion, January 2017 appears to be the time frame for some clarity on everything. The NBA and its players are expected to finalize a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in the coming weeks and that may come into play. If the city can go to them with multiple arena plans in hand, that could wind up being beneficial. Or they could just go to them with the best, which, at the moment, is clearly Sodo. Time will tell if that changes.