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Seattle Center arena construction goes on

Alaska Airlines Atrium Seattle NHL Arena

While the coronavirus pandemic shutters most of American business, construction is a field that remains open in many states. That’s good news for some big projects underway, including the massive overhaul of the Seattle Center arena, set to open in 2021.

While we have seen some venue projects suspended, such as the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas, others go on, such as the construction of SoFi Stadium and Allegiant Stadium. There has been a shutdown of residential construction in Washington State, but essential construction continues at the Seattle Center arena set to host an expansion NHL hockey team for the 2021-2022 season. 

A big reason why work is going on: Oak View Group and Mortenson are at a crucial time in the construction schedule, one where it would have been hard to postpone. This is an unusual project, to say the least, and a reason not to shut down the construction has to do with the very nature of Seattle Center.

Washington State Pavilion

The arena targeted for renovation, last known as KeyArena but previously named Washington State Coliseum and the Seattle Center Coliseum, has its roots as the Washington State Pavilion for the Century 21 Exposition and Seattle World’s Fair, as shown above. Designed by Paul Thiry initially as an expo space, the Washington State Pavilion featured a signature hyperbolic roofline—a roofline that survived two renovations, one to convert the facility to an arena and a later expansion to the KeyArena configuration. 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 during the past renovation, for instance. The current Seattle Center features plenty of World’s Fair buildings dating back to the 1962 event, as well as the venerable monorail still running from downtown.

The same game plan was implemented in the current Seattle Center arena renovation: the hyperbolic roofline would remain, and what is basically a new arena is being built underneath.

The expansion will roughly double the size of the facility.

Building a new arena under an existing roof led to some interesting design scheduling, and one was putting the 44-million-pound roof on temporary posts while other work was ongoing, including excavation 15 feet deeper and a widening of the arena footprint. The old footings were removed, a new foundation was poured and new posts installed, and it’s now time to reconnect the structure onto new posts and footings. Leaving the roof in a temporary state would surely be to tempt fate. How long the construction will last remains to be seen, but with it looking like coronavirus cases in Washington State might have already peaked, the impact may be manageable.

Rendering and construction photo courtesy Oak View Group.

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