Plans for KeyArena moving forward

Community gives input on project during open house

As KeyArena hosted the third day of the Seattle/King County Clinic on Saturday morning, community members and stakeholders were invited to discuss the venue’s future just steps away.

For four hours, hundreds filtered through the Cornish Playhouse, the site of a design open house as the Oak View Group seeks input on what a looming $600 million redevelopment of the facility could look like.

“This project from day one has been an open and transparent process,” said Lance Lopes, director of OVG Seattle. “We’ve been very clear about wanting to make sure that we listen, that we engage, and that we talk to the people to make sure that this arena truly is as good as it can be.”

Representatives from CAA Icon — a consulting firm for sports and entertainment facility owners and operators — and architecture firms Populous, DLR Group, and Swift Company were on hand to hear what concerns and ideas the public has for the project. Attendees could give their thoughts on everything from the design of the arena’s interior and how all four sides of the building interact with the surrounding area, to how the development can be fair and equitable for all citizens.

Several local community groups, including the Uptown Alliance, the Queen Anne and South Lake Union Community Councils, and both the Office of Arts & Culture and the Uptown Arts & Culture Coalition were also represented on Saturday. Lopes called those groups the “heroes” in the process, because of their countless volunteer hours spent on the project.

Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (who represents District 7, which includes the Seattle Center campus) said she regards the redevelopment of KeyArena as, “one of the most important things that have happened in our city.”

“This is going to transform our city,” Bagshaw said. “I’ve lived here — my husband and I raised two kids here — for 40 years, and in addition to the work that we’ve done around the waterfront that is connecting the waterfront back to our city, this is going to make Seattle Center again the center of Seattle.”

Lopes also acknowledged what the redevelopment of venue could mean for the rest of the campus.  

“I think we all recognize just how special Seattle Center is to this community, and for us to be able to reinvest in this arena, and create another 50 years of expansive growth and excitement here at the Center is something we’re really proud of,” Lopes said.

Among those hopeful that this effort could be the one that gets across the finish line, and provides a venue for a future men’s professional basketball and hockey franchise in the city is longtime advocate Brian Robinson.

Robinson, who sits on the city’s Arena Community Advisory Group, said the northern part of the city has room for development — on top of recent development — and the idea of bringing an amenity like an NBA/NHL facility to the area is an exciting one.

“There are challenges to the access, and everybody knows that,” Robinson said, “but I think that there is a good story to tell about just this historic Seattle Center campus, having a major reinvestment and becoming a centerpiece for the entire northern downtown district.”

But along with Seattle Center itself, Bagshaw expressed her interest in what the efforts may mean for the surrounding neighborhoods as well.

“I’m very excited about what we can do here in Uptown, in Belltown, in South Lake Union, to really make our businesses a place where they are going to be supported, they are going to be thriving, and there’s just a lot more opportunity,” she said.

The City Council could vote to approve the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and OVG as soon as Dec. 4. That would put the project on track for completion in October of 2020.

Whether the council will ultimately vote that early remains unclear. Both mayoral candidates, in interviews with the Queen Anne & Magnolia News last week, expressed some skepticism. Former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in addition to no public funding and a real transportation plan, the plan has to “move KeyArena forward as a fantastic public space.”

“I think Seattle Center is one of those jewels in Seattle,” she said, “but it’s in serious need of upgrades. If we can get someone to pay for those upgrades, that would be a plus.”

Activist and urban planner Cary Moon said she hasn’t seen enough investment in the transportation solution to be convinced it can work, and wants to be sure it’s a good financial deal for the city.

“My No. 1 goal is to protect the public interest, so that means protecting the Uptown neighborhood, [and] making sure that the businesses that are already there will thrive from the increase in people in the neighborhood,” she said.

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