Gaining 'Key' support

Arena bidders hear from the public in open house

As fans filtered into KeyArena for Thursday night’s Chris Brown concert, the future of the multipurpose venue was up for discussion just steps away.

Representatives from the two groups to submit proposals in response to the city’s RFP to redevelop the site were on hand at KEXP for an open house to answer questions from the public and discuss their dueling plans for the site.

On opposite sides of the radio station’s gathering space, the groups took vastly different approaches to presenting their ideas.

Seattle Partners, a partnership between arena giant AEG and development firm Hudson Pacific Properties, garnered attention with a giant video board playing renderings of their design plans, while giving attendees an even closer look through the use of smartglasses.

The Oak View Group took a more understated tact, with glossy boards displaying their designs.

Despite the contrast in presentation, both efforts to overhaul the facility — first constructed for the 1962 World's Fair, and rebuilt in the mid-1990s at a cost of approximately $75 million — are more similar than different. Either plan would cost north of $500 million, and expand the seating capacity to hold more than 17,000 spectators for hockey, and 18,000 for basketball in an effort to lure NBA and/or NHL franchises.

Where the two efforts start to diverge is in their use of the redevelopment footprint.

The plan from Seattle Partners proposes retaining 85 percent of the current roof, and extending the building’s roofline to the south for more square footage.

“What we didn’t want to do is create something that was deficient from an optimum setting.” Bob Newman, AEG Facilities President, told the Queen Anne & Magnolia News. “So, we challenged the architect. We said, ‘Create the best bowl that we can create today,’ and then we figured out, how do we put that bowl into this amazing structure.”

The OVG proposal calls for keeping the roofline as is, and digging deeper for more space, while bringing the entrance back to grade through a different access point on the venue’s south side. Lance Lopes, director of special projects for Oak View Group, told the Queen Anne & Magnolia News that changing the roofline would be too big of a departure from the building’s original design by modernist architect Paul Thiry.

“For us, it was clear because the very first objective for us was to make sure we did not disrupt the historical design of the building,” Lopes said. “We didn’t feel we could do that if we modified the roof line in any way, so it really was only one choice for us, and that was to go down.”


And though the price tags are similar, the amount of public funding involved in financing are also different.

Seattle Partners is asking for $250 million in public bonding in its $521 million proposal, but cites an independent financial analysis that projects a surplus of $144 million for the city over a 35-year lease. The group would guarantee all financing through revenues that would not exist without the proposed renovations.

“There really is zero-risk to the city,” Newman said. “Zero. Nothing but upside to the city, the city retains all of it’s current revenue streams, does not take a hit on any of them. It’s that simple.”

The OVG plan proposes entirely private-funding for the $564 million construction — mostly with private equity guaranteed by the Madison Square Garden Company, but with $100 million-plus coming in the form of loan from Goldman Sachs — but calls for a share of city admissions, parking, excise, and retail sales taxes after the building opens.

“All we’re really looking for is some of the marginal revenues we generate going forward, that would not exist but for this building; we’re asking to recapture some of those to be reinvested back in the building,” Lopes said.

Both groups also have disparate plans for addressing what for many is the biggest hurdle with the Seattle Center site: traffic.

Lopes said the biggest challenge his group faces right now is changing the perception about transportation and mobility, when “we do not see it as a situation that is anything other than workable.”

“Seattle Center has a tremendous advantage over any other location, and that is you can service it from 360 degrees,” he said. “There’s a way into this facility from every direction, and in many cases multiple ways in. For us, that’s opportunity.”

While acknowledging that help from a direct light rail connection won’t come until “well more than half the lifespan of the building,” Lopes noted the connection that the monorail provides between Seattle Center and Westlake, having used it himself after a concert at the Key recently.

“I walked over to the monorail, rode it downtown, went to my parking garage, jumped into my car, and was on I-5 in 16 minutes … I was very encouraged when I did that, to realize that this is a real solution,” he said. “This is not some ambitious idea, but it’s real. It’s a very functional transportation tool for us.”

And while Lopes noted that automobile use is on the decline, OVG’s plan does include construction of an 800-space garage.


Seattle Partners, meanwhile, has enlisted Nelson\Nygaard to address traffic and transit concerns, with Newman saying, “we know what we don’t know,” at this point in the process.

What helps, he said, is that there’s an active venue — with big events like Thursday’s concert — to study current traffic patterns.

“You have a great baseline to work with,” Newman said.

The group would also invest $5 million “to accelerate existing transportation strategies around the arena,” and create a shared mobility hub adjacent to the facility.

Though Thursday night marked the first major chance for the public to meet directly with those behind both arena proposals, the groups have been in contact with nearby community groups over the past several months, including the Uptown Alliance.

Deborah Frausto, chair of the Uptown Alliance’s KeyArena subcommittee, said members have been looking at both proposals, and been engaged with both groups on what the community stands to gain from a new facility.

 “Our question has always been to each of the teams, what is it that they bring that makes Uptown a better neighborhood, because they’re going to be a major player and a major partner in the community,” she said.

So far, she said, both have seemed interested in continuing to learn more.

“Each one understands a bit differently than the other one does, and responds differently to it, but they are refining their responses and keep digging deeper.”

The community support for their efforts is what Newman said gave his group the faith to continue pursuing the redevelopment.

“Unilaterally, they were in favor of the project if it was done right,” he said. “It wasn’t a no way, no matter what, and that gave us the confidence to keep exploring. Seeing the community embrace the potential project has been very reassuring.”

Moving forward, the city’s Executive Review Team is expected to make a recommendation to the mayor by the end of next month. If the mayor moves forward with one of the two proposals, as is expected, the City Council would then vote on a final memorandum of understand or lease agreement with the winning bidder.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us and for the city of Seattle,” Lopes said. “It’s time. This city desperately need a new arena, and we think there’s a moment in time here, particularly with what’s going on in this city, particularly with it’s growth, where the city has three wonderful options. We think we presented the best of those three options, and regardless, the city’s going to get a tremendous deal. This is going to be a tremendous deal for the taxpayers, just because of the environment that’s out there right now.”

For more information on the KeyArena RFP process, or to view the full proposals by each group, go to To comment on this story, write to