Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke talks about the new Seattle arena development on Thursday, April 18.
Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke talks about the new Seattle arena development on Thursday, April 18.

The new Seattle Center arena will cost significantly more than earlier projections, but Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke says it will be worth it when the sports and concert venue reopens in summer 2021.

Oak View Group, led by Leiweke’s brother, Tim, was tapped to expand the arena in June 2017, and general contractor M.A. Mortenson Co. has spent the past several months preparing the site for construction.

Construction of the new arena, which is being privately funded, went from an estimated cost of $650 million at the start, and then grew to $850 million by December’s groundbreaking. Leiweke said the estimated cost is now between $900 million and $930 million during a hard-hat media tour on Thursday, April 18.

“Is it all worth it? It is,” Leiweke said. “We’ve solved a Rubik’s Cube that’s been decades in the making.”

While the cost has gone up, OVG construction executive Ken Johnson said the developer will continue rebuilding the arena without asking for public funding.

“This is going to be one of the best arenas in the world,” Leiweke said, “and it’s been decades in the making.”

The hope had also been to have the arena reopened before the Seattle Storm WNBA team started their 2021 season in May, but Leiweke said the target is now early summer.

There is also talks of using the arena to host that year’s NHL draft, which would be an amazing way to reopen the venue, Leiweke said.

The National Hockey League’s Board of Governors voted unanimously on Dec. 4 to approve a Seattle expansion, the franchise costing the ownership group $650 million. The ownership group is led by Leiweke, David Bonderman and action-film director Jerry Bruckheimer.

Neither the Seattle hockey team nor the arena has a name yet, but Leiweke said naming rights for the arena are being marketed now.

Sound walls are still going up to keep construction noise down. OVG requested and was granted a variance to exceed noise level limits between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. on weekends and legal holidays in order to expedite construction.

Support buildings on First Avenue North have come down, and soon a ramp will be removed, which will allow that side of the arena to serve as a pedestrian access plaza, Johnson said. A future tunnel will lead to eight loading docks. There will also be 500 parking spaces.

The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board has set conditions that the original glass windows and iconic roof be retained in the project. Johnson said the single-pane windows continue to be removed and catalogued, so they can later be put back in place. The roof, weighing 44 million pounds, will be held in place by temporary supports later in construction.

“We are so proud of this project,” Leiweke said. “It’s not for the faint of heart.”

The arena bowl has mostly been gutted, the seats all gone and the walls of the suites removed. Mortenson will soon begin a 600,000-cubic-yard excavation, Johnson said, which will help nearly double the arena’s size, from 450,000 square feet to 850,000 square feet.

“Be careful of vertigo,” Leiweke said. “This is going to be one of the steepest buildings in all of North America.”

The subterranean arena will have a seating capacity of 17,300 for hockey teams, more than 18,600 for basketball and around 18,000 for concerts, all of which will sound a lot better with new acoustic treatments, Johnson said.

The extended timeline also allowed the development team the opportunity to work with David Rockwell with Rockwell Group to design the arena’s 40 suites, which are starting to come on the market, Leiweke said.

Johnson said the development team continues looking at how to improve the experience for people coming to the arena, including how they arrive and depart. Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson resigned earlier this month to take a job with NHL Seattle as a transportation advisor.