KeyArena Expansion On Hold

Washington state lawmakers won’t be voting on a proposed $220 million renovation package for the KeyArena at Seattle Center this year, putting the venue’s expansion on hold for now.

Recent meetings between state, city, county and Seattle SuperSonics officials failed to come up with a plan that Gov. Chris Gregoire and the legislature would consider.

Seattle Center spokesman Perry Cooper said that decision puts the ball back in the city’s court, so to speak.

“Gov. Gregoire is apparently proposing to allow the City Council to do some public process – have some public hearings – and decide whether or not they want to do a vote for the type of package that they would put together, or ask for, in November,” Cooper told Pollstar. “[The legislature] wanted a deal, or at least a handshake agreement, between the city and the Sonics.”

On the table was a tax package that would pay for some of the upgrades to the arena, where the NBA team plays its home games. Also in question is whether Sonics officials would move the team to another facility if the KeyArena improvements aren’t made.

The project was to be financed by a portion of local tax revenue that is currently used for construction costs at the city’s Safeco and Qwest fields, as well as arts and tourism. The money would also be used to retire about $60 million in bond debt from the 1995 expansion that built KeyArena.

The proposed renovation would expand the KeyArena complex from 368,000 square feet to 730,000 square feet, add a theatre that can be configured from 5,000 to 7,000 capacity, add 300 more seats to the arena and convert 26 of 58 luxury suites to loge boxes, terrace tables and party suites.

Cooper said the parties are still working toward the mutual goal.

“The Sonics have said they’re going to go back and determine what they’re going to do next,” he explained. “The City Council is in the midst of doing its own study about KeyArena’s future as well.”

Meanwhile, Seattle Center officials are discussing options for the complex’s Mercer Arena, built around 1927, which has been shuttered since McCaw Hall opened in 2003.

“When we turned the Mercer Arena into what we called the Mercer Arts Arena for the period McCaw Hall was under construction, we were only allowed to do it as a temporary space for opera and ballet audiences,” Cooper said. “In order for us to turn it into a permanent space, we’d have to upgrade all of the seismic, life, safety, energy code and ADAs because it now becomes a full-blown improvement. We figure it could cost up to $20 million just to do that.”

Options discussed for Mercer’s use include a recreational facility, a theatre complex, a live club or turning it over to a resident group like the Seattle Opera to use as office space and a theatre and production area.

But another possibility is working out a deal with Live Nation, which submitted a proposal in 2002.

“We had talked to [Live Nation] in the past. It’s possible we’ll look at it again but at the time, the deal just didn’t work out for all of us,” Cooper explained. “It sounds easy enough to turn it into a 2,000- to 3,000-seat concert venue, but the problem you have there … is competition for other theatres like the Paramount and 5th Avenue. It [would also] compete with McCaw Hall directly. There’s a lot of sticky wickets.

“We expect some determination to be coming this year on a lot of things because of the Mayor’s task force.”

– Tina Amendola