Updated 4:15 p.m. Wednesday: Promising to build a world-class arena, and with it potentially lure an NBA or NHL team to Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray announced Wednesday that he has selected Oak View Group to renovate the 55-year-old KeyArena.
“If the Space Needle is the front door of this beautiful place, KeyArena is the action-packed rec room,” Murray said during a news conference (watch in full in the video above) from the venue at Seattle Center.
The mayor was joined by a host of dignitaries, including Oak View founders Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff, former Seattle Supersonics head coach Lenny Wilkens, and owners and reps from pro sports teams including the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders FC and Storm, among others.
The decision to accept Oak View’s $547 million proposal to renovate KeyArena — beneath its existing roofline — ends more than 12 years of uncertainty around the venue. Whether the eventual result, backed by some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment, is successful in bringing back the Sonics or playing host to professional hockey depends largely on expansion plans for both leagues.
Murray said Seattle Center, located at the “intersection of our booming South Lake Union tech hub, a future light rail station, and two of the city’s densest neighborhoods” is poised to be a “global, cultural district.”
Promising that his group of partners, and not taxpayers, will carry the burden of risk associated with the project, Leiweke, who in his 40 years in the business has developed such arenas as Staples Center in Los Angeles and the O2 in London, called the KeyArena plan “the most iconic, most visionary, and the greatest opportunity” that he has ever been involved with.
With the backing of other pro sports team owners, but no concrete plan or timeline for how or when Seattle could experience NBA or NHL action at the Key, Leiweke nonetheless promised, “We’re gonna get you a team.” He even said to Wilkens that he was counting on the coach of the 1979 NBA champion Supersonics to get a team back in Seattle.
And he welcomed Chris Hansen, the investor who has lobbied for an arena in Seattle’s stadium district, to join the Oak View Group of partners, saying that the KeyArena decision was now Hansen’s best shot to be part of Seattle’s NBA rebirth.
Azoff, the music entertainment executive, took a turn at the microphone and spoke to the potential for KeyArena to be a premiere venue for live music, saying that the renovation will not fail to address the need for top-notch acoustics for both sports and music. He even said he had heard from members of Pearl Jam, and that the Seattle rock band could someday be first to rechristen the new building.
The selection was a done deal when Seattle Partners, the other group involved in the bid process, withdrew its proposal on Sunday, citing concerns about how the city was conducting the bid process. But Murray admitted that he made his decision on Friday, before Seattle Partners pulled out.
The mayor told KING5 that he made his decision after consulting with senior staff, and an arena advisory council. He said OVG’s financing package looked solid, but that it will now get a thorough vetting in front of the Seattle City Council.
“Oak View Group really is building an entire new arena under the current roof,” Murray told KING5. “It’s not just a remodel, but a completely new arena.”
Here’s a link to Oak View Group’s proposal.
To hear more from Leiweke, be sure to attend the upcoming GeekWire Sports Tech Summit. He’s one of many speakers like Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto; NFL COO Tod Leiweke; League of Legends founder Brandon Beck; WNBA legend Sue Bird; Bleacher Report CEO Dave Finocchio; and others who will talk about the future of sports technology.
Before starting OVG in 2015, Leiweke spent 18 years leading AEG, and then two years as CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. He will discuss how stadiums are changing to create more immersive fan experiences.
Buy your tickets to the Sports Tech Summit here: