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Seattle arena construction won’t get green light until NHL awards franchise

The Seattle Hockey Group won’t be allowed to begin their $700-million renovation of KeyArena until the NHL awards the city an expansion franchise.

If the NHL wants to see Seattle begin construction on a new arena, the league is going to first have to award the city a franchise.

Late last week, Seattle City Council added a clause to the development agreement between the city and Oak View Group, which is behind the request to put in the neighborhood of $700 million into renovating Seattle’s downtown KeyArena, that will block any demolition and construction at the site until the NHL has officially awarded Seattle an expansion franchise. The clause has been added less than a month before the NHL is set to meet with the Seattle Hockey Partners group, led by David Bonderman, Jerry Bruckheimer and Tim and Tod Leiweke, in order to take the next steps towards approval of the franchise.

However, according to KING 5’s Chris Daniels, the addition to the agreement isn’t seen as a roadblock or even all that much of a hurdle for the group. Marshall Foster, director of the Seattle Office of the Waterfront and Civic Project, told Daniels that the city and arena group were able to agree to the clause without much difficulty, adding that it was an important inclusion “as a way of verifying the financial wherewithal and backing of OVG.”

All things considered, too, it may not take the Seattle Hockey Partners all that long to get the approval they need to get the wheels in motion on construction at the KeyArena site. Speaking with Seattle’s 950 KJR in late-August, Tod Leiweke told hosts Dave Mahler and Dick Fain that the group heading up the expansion bid will be heading to New York in the first week of October to meet with and present the executive committee with their proposal for what would be the NHL’s 32nd franchise. If all goes well, and the expectation has long been that they will, Seattle’s expansion bid will then eye up a meeting with the Board of Governors in December. That meeting could be the one that gives the group the go-ahead from the NHL.

And even if it isn’t until December that Seattle is granted an expansion franchise, there doesn’t appear to be all that much concern about having the arena ready in time for the NHL to make its debut in the State of Washington. Daniels reported that a December start date would still put the renovation on pace to be complete before October 2020, which has been noted as a tentative start date for a team in Seattle. That said, if the Seattle group needs a bit more time to get things in place, it appears they may have it.

During the NHL’s media tour last week, deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke about the potential expansion franchise and noted the league has more than considered pushing back the start date to the 2021-22 campaign. According to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, Daly said due to a “variety of factors” the league was looking at pushing back the prospective start date. “We’ve had that discussion on a preliminary basis with the ownership group and I think the ownership group is on board with the timeline,” Daly said, per Kaplan. “That’s not set in stone, but I don’t think either side is feeling any time pressure.”

Leiweke told KING 5 that regardless of the NHL’s desired start date, the group expects to have the building ready by October 2020. “We are focused on and expect to be ready for the 2020-2021 season should approval be given for us to join as the 32nd franchise, per the request of the NHL,” Leiweke said. “Should that direction from the NHL change, we are prepared to move to 2021-2022.”

Either way, the NHL appears one step closer to bringing the Seattle franchise into the fold, and if the group heading up the bid can get approval in the coming months, we may see them begin the process of getting their home in place in relatively short order.