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AEG, Oak View Pursuing Key Arena Renovations: Mayor

Washington State Pavilion

At least two major arena-management and concert-promotion firms — including current arena manager AEG and Los Angeles-based Oak View Group — have approached Seattle Mayor Ed Murray about Key Arena renovations that could bring the NBA and NHL to the Seattle Center.

To say that the Seattle arena situation is utterly fascinating these days is an understatement. We have developer Chris Hansen moving forward on a SoDo arena that could bring gridlock or glory to the city’s sports facilities area. After acquiring more land recently for an arena project, he announced he would not be seeking any public money for the facility and would be working on a private-financing plan. Meanwhile, a 2015 AECOM plan on the revitalization of Key Arena has been dusted off and given new life by the city. The issue is whether the old arena — which is still loved by many, many city residents, especially those old enough to remember the 1962 World’s Fair — can indeed be overhauled to meet today’s modern arena-fan expectations. But a little background is in order.

The Seattle Sonics (NBA) were sold to Oklahoma City interests after ownership determined Key Arena to be inadequate for professional basketball. Given its history and limitations, this wasn’t an absurd conclusion. Key Arena didn’t begin life in 1962 as an arena, but as the Washington State Pavilion for the Century 21 Exposition and Seattle World’s Fair, as shown at the top of this page. Designed by Paul Thiry, it was then expanded as the Washington State Coliseum–later the Seattle Center Coliseum–and was home before being renovated between 1994 and 1995 into today’s Key Arena. One of the key features of the arena was its hyperbolic roofline, and those renovations took great care to minimize the impact on the roofline: the arena floor was lowered 35 feet below street level to allow for 3,000 more seats. A whole generation of Seattle residents grew up with Key Arena hosting big events, including Sonics games and concerts by The Beatles and Elvis Presley.

But the current state of Key Arena is not great. Right now hockey at Key Arena is a miserable experience, with part of the arena closed off and the scoreboard hanging over a blue line, not at center ice. One of AECOM’s solutions was to reorient the bowl, providing more seating and better views of a rink while leaving the roof intact.

That AEG would be interested in a renovated Key Arena is easy to understand: besides owning shares in the Los Angeles Kings (NHL) and the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA), the firm also owns and operates Staples Center. Its management services extend to NBA/NHL venues like Oracle Arena (Oakland), PPG Paints Arena (Pittsburgh), T-Mobile Arena (Las Vegas) and American Airlines Arena (Miami). And don’t forget the whole concert-promotion side of AEG. And it’s no surprise that Oak View Group, headed by former Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment head honcho Tim Leiweike and backed by Madison Square Garden, has aggressively entered the concert-promotion business as well. From the Seattle Times:

“We believe in the KeyArena location,” Leiweke, CEO of the 11-month-old Oak View Group, told The Seattle Times in an interview Thursday night. “We believe that the studies have proven — and we will continue to do additional studies as we go through this process — that there is a chance to renovate and make that arena work for music and sports.

“And the economics are such that if the right private-public partnership can be established, that it will stand alone on its own two feet without the rest of the land around it having to be developed.”…

Murray said in a statement that the city will issue a Request for Proposals in January.

“There are many challenges to consider, including how to address traffic in the growing Uptown neighborhood,” Murray’s statement said. “And any viable plan will include efforts to mitigate these concerns while also bringing Seattle tremendous cultural and financial benefit.”

It will be interesting to see how a Key Arena renovation could fit into a larger overhaul of the venerable Seattle Center site. Building entertainment complexes next to arenas is a huge trend in the industry, and doing something at Seattle Center that would also benefit other tenants may gain some traction in the city. And, of course, both AEG and Oak View Group have experience with successful venues with no pro sports — like Sprint Center and the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, Cal.

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