SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council unanimously approved plans for a privately funded $700 million renovation of KeyArena on Monday, clearing one of the last major hurdles in the city’s bid to land an expansion NHL franchise.
The 8-0 vote was the last step needed to strengthen Seattle’s expansion application and it means a team could be playing in the new building during the 2020-21 season.
The next phase in the arena/franchise process comes next week when Seattle Hockey Partners, the ownership group attempting to land the expansion team, presents before the NHL Board of Governors’ Executive Committee.
“It’s a good moment. I think it’s the beginning of the journey. It’s not the end of the journey. We have a lot of work to do, but at least now we get to go do the work,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, which is undertaking the renovation of the building that opened in 1962.
The vote ended a debate that began in the mid-2000s when Howard Schultz, then the owner of the Seattle SuperSonics, said the city-owned KeyArena needed renovations. The lack of luxury amenities and a challenging lease agreement ultimately led to the Sonics leaving following the 2008 season and moving to Oklahoma City, where the franchise was rebranded as the Thunder.
Numerous arena plans have been presented since but none had gotten to this point. And while the vote didn’t provide healing for fans hurt by the Sonics move, it did create the likelihood that the city will land an NHL team soon and could one day see the NBA return.
“This is just a great deal for the city. … This is world class. This is a legacy project,” City Council President Bruce Harrell said.