By Andy Eide
SEATTLE – A process that began over a decade ago, and seemed dead in the water on several occasions, was finalized Monday before enthusiastic applause.
The Seattle City Council unanimously voted, by an 8-0 count, to approve a plan allowing the Oak View Group to remodel Key Arena in the hopes of luring an expansion National Hockey League franchise to Seattle. The Oak View Group is privately funding the $700 million-dollar project and hopes to begin construction as soon as possible.
“It’s a good moment,” OVG’s Tim Leiweke said Monday. “It’s the beginning of the journey, it’s not the end of the journey. We have a lot of work to do and now we get to go do the work.”
The packed Council chamber was littered with hockey sweaters as many of the area’s fans wanted to be there to see the moment for themselves. With the arena deal approved the spotlight now shines on the Seattle Hockey Partners and CEO Tod Leiweke who will be leading a contingent to make a formal presentation to the NHL’s Executive Committee in New York on Oct. 2nd.
That meeting is still a week away and on Monday, hockey fans were excited to be one giant step closer to having a team in Seattle to root for.
“This is incredible,” local hockey fan Kelly Goscinski said. “I tried not to tear up sitting there, this is finally going to happen. We’ve been waiting for this. We’re from New Jersey, big Devils fans, but to be able to have something here that’s our very own is incredible.”
Goscinksi is not only a hockey fan, she’s also a hockey Mom, coach, and president of the Washington Wild. The Wild is an all-girls youth hockey program and has been a consistent supporter at City Hall meetings during this arena process.
The Seattle NHL ownership group has been active in reaching out the Wild and other youth programs in the area during the entire process. Goscinksi feels that having the NHL in Seattle will only benefit her organization, and others.
“This is going to grow the sport for youth and girls tremendously,” she said. “Especially when they see they have a local option for girls right here in their own backyard. They can go watch the NHL play and then come out and do it themselves.”
Several members of the University of Washington hockey team were in the chambers on Monday as well, decked out in their Huskies sweaters.
Hockey is a club sport at Washington and the players have a great passion for the sport.
“I grew up in the Seattle area and I’ve always thought it was weird that we didn’t have an NHL team,” Washington junior Ethan Stark said. “All the big cities do and I’m just super excited. Right as I’m getting out of college we’ll have a team and I’ll actually maybe have some money to go watch them.”
Stark wasn’t the only Husky hockey player who was thrilled with the arena news.
“Today’s awesome,” Mason Friedman, a senior center for the Huskies added. “I’m a Seattle transplant myself, I got here for college, but just seeing the city’s response to the ticket drive, it’s awesome. There’s a ton of hockey fans here, they’re eager to have a team. I’m eager to have a team here. Hockey is just a great sport.”
Tod Leiweke has been quick to express his appreciation for the local hockey fans, and community, on several occasions.
So, it was not a surprise to hear him Monday, reflecting on what the local support has meant to him and to the process as they began working with the City of Seattle.
“The support from the city was awesome,” he said. “But on March 1st, the support of the fans was truly the epic day for the NHL. 32,000 fans placed their deposits and we owe them a lot. Today is the beginning of the pay back for all those fans that had faith back then. We intend on paying them back.”
Monday was a great day for hockey fans in the Pacific Northwest. The last political hurdle with the city was cleared, a hurdle that felt like it would never be overcome.
But, before fans can start dreaming about team names and colors, there is still some work to be done. Leiweke, the ownership group, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan will head to New York on Oct. 2nd to make the big pitch.
When they’re in the room with the NHL, Leiweke says he’ll be there for the fans.
“They were the biggest dreamers of all,” he said. “They placed deposits without a team name. They placed deposits without an agreement with the city and you know, I feel a little emotional about them today. I have worked for the fans here for two other teams and they have never let me down. We’re pledging to them today, we’re not going to let you down. We’re going to bring this home.”