By Andy Eide
SEATTLE – What was officially a ground-breaking ceremony for the new Seattle Center Arena Wednesday, turned quickly into a continued celebration of the National Hockey League’s expansion to Seattle.
The dignitaries that helped land the new team and the building of a new arena were all in attendance at the West Plaza of Key Arena. It was, in essence, Seattle hockey’s first starting lineup.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan kicked off the ceremonies in an appropriate manner.
“Are we ready for hockey,” she asked the crowd in attendance. “Is this hockey weather? Do we love this building?”
The love for the building in its current state was somewhat muted but it was quickly pointed out by Oak View Group’s Tim Leiweke that the project is not a renovation, but rather, a new arena.
An arena project that started at $650 million but has now risen to $850 million, all privately financed by OVG.
“We never have value engineered one piece out of this building,” Leiweke added. “We stuck with everything. We made sure that this arena, a brand new arena, would be the finest in the country, and it will be. In addition to that, we honored 1962 and the World’s Fair, we honored the history and tradition of our neighborhood and Seattle Center. We kept this majestic, beautiful roof and we learned to build a new arena underneath it.”
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee was also part of the ceremonies, excited to support the NHL team and the new arena.
The Governor has been vocal in his desire to stir up a rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks and has not been shy about chirping his counterparts in the Vancouver and British Columbia government.
“We want to build a high-speed rail between Vancouver and Seattle and Portland,” Governor Inslee added. “This is going to be like a subway series. This is going to be the greatest series in NHL history, so we’re already getting in each other faces.”
Inslee also spoke of the impact, of what will end up being over a billion-dollar investment of private funds into this project, is for the city, state and region.
“The obvious thing is the sports franchise but also the entertainment venue with the culture,” he said. “This is not just sports, it’s the rebirth of a cultural venue as well and that’s really important. Obviously, we have hopes for the Sonics as well, so everybody wins in this. It’s a good day for Washington.”
Fresh off the plane from Georgia, where he was on hand for the announcement Tuesday from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL Seattle president Tod Leiweke took the podium and wanted to fire up the crowd.
He cautioned that they had promised the neighboring apartment complexes that they would keep the noise to a minimum, but it was too exciting of a day to be restrained.
“You know what happened yesterday,” Tod Leiweke exclaimed with a raised fist. “The commissioner stood at a podium and said ‘Seattle, you’ve got an NHL team’. Woo. That was not only a dream about a team, that was a dream about a building. I was here, I was CEO of the Seahawks and I saw our NBA team leave over this building and this building was left for dead, and it’s not fair.
“This building is such an important part of our community and such an important part of Seattle Center.”
With the speeches done, the group picked up ceremonial shovels, fashioned out of hockey sticks, and dug into some dirt for the photo opportunity.
There were smiles abound. Smiles about a new arena, an NHL franchise and the overflow of emotion and momentum over the past 24 hours in Seattle.
“Ultimately, I want to thank the fans,” Tod Leiweke said. “I was in a meeting at the NFL and my brother sent me a text message that said, ‘call me, it’s an emergency’. I called him back and he told me that in ten minutes we had achieved 10,000 deposits and by the end of that day we had 32,000 deposits. And, I’m proud to tell you that just yesterday, 5000 people signed up on our waiting list.
“That’s who we’re doing this for. We’re building this building for them, we’re building a world class franchise for them, and we will not let them down.”