If you haven’t yet started dreaming up potential names for an NHL franchise in Seattle, you might want to start. Earlier this week, Seattle City Council unanimously approved the $700-million arena renovation project that will take place at the site of the current KeyArena, and if all goes according to plan, the building should be ready for NHL action by the time October 2020 rolls around.
The approval of the arena project, which will be undertaken by Seattle Arena Company (ArenaCo) and includes the Oak View Group, who has led the charge for an NHL team in Seattle, comes little more than one week before members of OVG, along with Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, head to New York City to meet with the executive committee of the NHL’s Board of Governors. The arena deal and the associated unanimous vote, said Seattle Hockey Partners president and CEO Tod Leiweke, has energized the entire group ahead of next week’s meeting.
“I think all that does is put wind in our sails and shows this community is serious about getting this arena fixed,” Leiweke told Dave Mahler and Dick Fain on Seattle’s 950 KJR. “And as we go and talk to the NHL, and as we talk to others, that’s going to be a material data point — that the city was unified in wanting to have this happen. It’s a really important thing from today as we go to stand in front of the NHL executive committee.”
As part of the arena deal, ArenaCo, will be keeping the current KeyArena roof, which Leiweke said is one of the most unique features of the building. Many parts of the current building, which plays host to the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, will be demolished and built anew as expansions are made to increase the capacity by 2,000-plus seats. At present, KeyArena can reportedly house a crowd of 15,177 for hockey. Post-renovation, that number is expected to climb to 17,400. The new capacity would be similar to that of the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Honda Center in Anaheim, Canadien Tire Center in Ottawa and SAP Center in San Jose.
Before any demolition can begin, however, the NHL must approve Seattle’s bid for a franchise. While it’s expected that Seattle will be given the green light, the process begins with the aforementioned meeting in New York City, scheduled to take place on Oct. 2.
“Next week, we get to tell our story, and it’s not just going to be about a hockey team,” Leiweke told Mahler and Fain. “It’s going to be about a beautiful building and a spectacular part of town in a market that is the fastest growing market in the United States. We won’t tell that story once. That’s the story we’re going to keep telling time and time again.”
It’s expected that following approval by the executive committee, Leiweke and others from OVG, likely including prospective Seattle NHL owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer, will meet with the NHL’s Board of Governors at the annual December meeting. There, the Seattle group will seek the final approval from the league, which would then allow demolition to begin. If or when that comes to pass, there’s little doubt the first shovel into the dirt in Seattle Center will give the 32,000 fans who made deposits for the prospective Seattle NHL franchise goosebumps.
“There was a time (Monday) that I felt some emotion when I was talking about how these people laid down a deposit,” Leiweke told Mahler and Fain. “There wasn’t a guarantee the building was going to be done, we don’t have a team name, they don’t know who the GM is, they don’t know who the coach is…These fans in Seattle are the best fans in America.”
But once the building gets going, and once a Seattle franchise is given the green light, the focus will have to shift to putting in place an on-ice product that is going to have some modicum of success in its first season. Already, former Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett has come aboard with Seattle’s not-yet-approved NHL operation, and while it was said Tippett wouldn’t be moving into the GM chair if or when the time comes for Seattle to start searching for the architect of its on-ice product, Leiweke hinted that front office announcements may not be too far away.
“Before this season is done, we hope to have a war room constructed, and we’re going to start really, really looking at these players,” Leiweke told Mahler and Fain. “I think a GM is on board sometime at the end of this coming season. This is assuming, all of this is assuming, that we do a good job and we’re granted a franchise.”