The Key at Night
The Key at Night

Even before the Seattle City Council put its seal of approval on a revised deal to permit a new arena in SODO, local news sites were awash with discussion of the future of KeyArena. On Wednesday, the Times editorialized on the subject, calling for the city not to forget “KeyArena and the neighborhood economy it supports”. Since the loss of the Sonics in 2008, the arena has struggled financially, and a newer, larger arena might draw away the last of its regular tenants, such as the Seattle Storm, ending for the foreseeable future its viability as an entertainment venue. Should this come to pass, no consensus exists on what may become of the arena.

I don’t suppose I’m going to change that lack of consensus in this post; but I’m going to tell you, as someone who lives very close to KeyArena and sees its effect on the neighborhood, that in the long run, I’d like nothing more than to see it knocked down to build some nice mid-rise apartments, and along with it all the other old low-slung Center buildings and multistory parking garage south of Republican and west of 2nd Ave N. Contra the Times, KeyArena does not support a “neighborhood economy”; it’s a pox on the neighborhood, and only supports lots of parking lots and dive bars.

In general, local discussions of anything to do with the Seattle Center have, to me, an emperor-have-no-clothes quality to them. It’s taken as given that Seattle is greatly invested in the Seattle Center as an entity, as a campus, but in fact there’s nothing particularly optimal about the current arrangement. Great cities around the world have magnificent operas, thrilling theaters, absorbing museums, and attractive landmark highrise structures like the Space Needle; but the norm is not to put them all in one place. Such attractions work just as well dotted throughout the urban center, where they are close to transit and lots of people. Other functions of the center, like the (excellent) International Fountain and small event space rental could work just as well through other city departments.

More after the jump.

Moreover, not only does it add little or nothing to the sum of its parts, I’d argue the Center, and especially KeyArena, operates unintentionally as a blight on the surrounding neighborhood. Spend some time walking around the area, and you’ll realize pretty quickly that the number of surface parking lots, dreary testimony to old buildings lost, correlates pretty well with the distance from KeyArena. Insulated from the campus, a little pocket of Uptown west of Queen Anne Ave, between Olympic Place and Mercer Street feels a little like Summit Slope, with lots of dense, lowrise apartments, some quite old; a charming, pleasant feel, mostly absent around the west side of the Seattle Center.

I see no mystery in the mechanism for this blight. Everything about the Center, and particularly the arena, caters primarily to visitors from outside the neighborhood, which is manageable in moderation, but in this concentration it overwhelms the nearby parts of Uptown. People swarm in, mostly driving cars, and swarm out when they’ve seen what they came for. During game days, KeyArena blasts recorded messages in a loop over a PA; outside of game days, it’s a giant concrete block behind an empty plaza. For about half an hour after any major event at the Key, car traffic completely overloads the neighborhood street grid, cars and transit are almost completely immobilized.

If  Seattle believes in the efficacy of human-scale, walkable, mixed-used urbanism to promote more sustainable living and build livable neighborhoods (and the direction and results of our zoning code strongly suggest that’s true), I think it follows that the city should passively shrink the Seattle Center, converting that land to mixed-use housing, or other neighborhood necessities, possibly including a new school, when opportunities present themselves, as one potentially does now.

I should clarify that I’m not suggesting the city should send in the bulldozers tomorrow; I’m loath to gratuitously knock down a usable structure, even if it’s ugly and its urban design is awful. Reuven Carlyle put out some thoughts about repurposing the building on his blog, including the idea of conversion to a STEM specialty school or multi-use neighborhood facility, which certainly seem worth exploring. Where I differ from Carlyle, and many others (who I’m sure are about to give me an earful), is that I don’t regard the Seattle Center as the heart and soul of Seattle, I don’t see it as an asset to the neighborhood (exactly the opposite), nor do I see much practical value in it as more than the sum of its parts.

I’m thus not sweating either the future of the KeyArena as a venue, or even (in the long run) as a building, nor the Seattle Center as a campus, and I don’t think anyone else should sweat it either. Let’s not forget it, but let’s not feel obliged to throw gobs of public money at it. In the “worst” case scenario, the city just sells it off for mixed-use development, and the land returns to the neighborhood whence it came.

135 Replies to “Knock Down the Key Arena”

  1. and while were at it let’s knock down that shabby place called Dicks. or a couple of those pizza parlors. Have you seen the sleazy people they attract?
    I used to live 2 blocks north of the Key, and would love to see Goggle HQ move into a newly remodeled Arena.
    Cubicle City.

    1. ps, Goggle is a huge employer in the optics field, making eyewear for aviators and cyclist. Bigger than Amizone. It could be a Green Line stop.

  2. I agree with you about the impact of Key Arena on the immediate neighborhood and would also be a fan of tearing it down. I would also tear down Memorial Stadium, add some additional parkland to the east and west of the International Fountain, then redevelop the crap out of all the garages and the area west of Warren (which should be reopened). Along 5th N where the big parking lot next to Memorial Stadium would be a great location for housing as well in my opinion.

    1. I’ve been a big fan of getting rid of memorial stadium and the huge parking lot next to it for years.

      OTOH I’m not a fan of “selling off Seattle Center” and such a thing wouldn’t play well politically. That said a “street wall” along 5th N with retail and housing would be a good thing.

      I’d also agree all of the garages should be redeveloped. The ones along Mercer are a blight.

    2. I’m going to point out that a good portion of Seattle High Schools play football at Memorial Stadium, due a lot of high schools not having their own venues. Tearing it down without building an alternate would be considered an act of treason.

      1. We’ve got that Tradition Stadium being renovated at Montlake Blvd and Pacific Ave. I hear it will hold close to 100,000 attendees. It will also host only about six events per year, on Saturdays for the most part. I hear it will also be within the walkshed of a train station, with a train that comes by more than 150 times per day, can carry ca. 5000 passengers an hour each way at peakload, and has buses connecting directly to its stations from every corner of town.

        Maybe UW and SPS can talk with each other and strike a deal. Wouldn’t UW just love to see the best high school players getting a taste of playing in their Tradition Stadium?

    3. Who would get to own this prime real estate, since any of these fantastic new structures would be on public lands?

      Oh wait…don’t answer…I’m sure that we can all guess.

  3. I’d certainly like to keep a large piece of Seattle Center – it’s active and interesting all year long, and acts as a park, a tourist attraction, a community center, an events center, a collection of art spaces, and a transit hub all in one. That said, I don’t mind shrinking it some and unless we find some awesome use for the Key, I don’t see a reason to keep it.

    I’ve been on an engineer’s tour of underneath the Arena, and some of the heating and air conditioning equipment looked original to the stadium (I specificially remember a cute little old chiller – those are not cheap or easy to replace). There’s not going to be a *do nothing* option – there is some significant money we’ll need to put into the place at some point just to keep it running.

    1. There’s not going to be a *do nothing* option – there is some significant money we’ll need to put into the place at some point just to keep it running.

      I believe the figure was $7 million that Chris Hansen would put into Key Arena to make it viable as a temporary venue for a new basketball team.

      I agree with you on keeping most of the Center. What I want to see is the superblocks like the one Key sits on broken up and some of those streets reopened. They can always be closed for Bumbershoot et al.

    2. The Key was built for $7m in 1960, and renovated in ’95 for $74m, so all that is about $177 in today’s dollars. Capitol Hill Station is costing about $155m.
      Hmmm. The Green Line to Ballard could go through it, and the Matt-mobile (TM)
      trams landing on the top. Extend the monorail in there and poof… Multimodel Center. What’s not to like about that?

    3. Without Folk Life, where will Tim Eyman’s army of [ot] migrant rent-a-petitioners from California collect all the signatures to get his detroy-government petitions on the ballot?

      Seattle Center is *not* a transit hub. A transit hub is a place where lots of transit users transfer between routes/lines. I don’t think a significant number of riders use Seattle Center as a transfer point.

      1. A transit hub is where a number of lines converge in a useable fashion. A combination of 8 and the D Line will typically the best way to get between two of our biggest urban centers. I don’t know how many people make the transfer (the unreliability of the 8 probably squelches a lot of potential ridership), but those stops in Uptown have lots of turnover on the 15/18.

      2. If the D-line took the most direct route to downtown, D->Link would get you from Ballard to Capitol Hill significantly faster than more reliably than D->8 does today.

        Even with the LQA deviation D->Link is still better than D->8 on Sundays when the 8 is half-hourly, plus whenever Denny Way is gridlocked.

  4. Indeed. It’s worth noting that that Catholic parish there on the corner had an elementary school when it opened in the 50’s, but it closed shortly after Seattle Center opened because the Seattle Center development drove so many families out of the neighborhood.

    But the last thing we should do is encourage people to drive to events at the Center by operating parking garages. There is already too much traffic in the area normally (see: Denny, Mercer). If only there were some futuristic city-owned rapid transit system linking the Center to our regional light-rail system…

  5. Yes, but they aren’t in Seattle; they’re clustered in Seattle Center. Downtown is mostly a mini-clone of midtown Manhattan. Nice Jeremiad, but essentially O/T, really.

  6. Yes, that’s what we need. More mid-rise apartment blocks with limited parking, poor transit access, and the demolition of a building that was part of the ’62 World Expo. Why on earth do we want to demolish parking in town? Honestly, folks, we want to encourage people to visit our City. Not everyone flies to town and stays in downtown. Many live in outlying areas and visit for the day. While some have great transit access, others do not. Dumping park garages is not the key to curing the blight, as you say.

    Maybe we could renovate the building into a new Washington State Convention Center, demolish the current one along with Freeway Park, so we can actually do something with I-5 through the core, since many trips in the region aren’t to the CBD. Having watched CalTrans rebuild the approach to the Bay Bridge in SF recently, huge projects on one of the primary routes into town can be done. You just have think outside of the box. We already have a plethora of mid-rise apartment blocks filled with young urban singles and couples.

    1. Why on earth would we want to encourage people who are not actually headed to the Seattle core to drive through it at 60 mph on I-5? What benefits does that bring to Seattle residents? Why would that justify tearing down our (actually quite excellent, partly because of its central location) convention center?

      And there will never, ever be a shortage of parking for visitors, at least as long as we have current parking rules requiring more parking in new developments than the market demands. Parking lots on the surface will be replaced by parking garages under buildings, but they will have plenty of space available. If you want to look at the damage that surface parking lots do, have a look at the western portion of the Denny Triangle — while it’s changing, it’s still largely a wasteland of parking lots that breeds crime and keeps people away.

    2. “Poor transit access”. LOL. It’s only at the doorstep of the D Line, the 8 and a bunch of Queen Anne buses.

      1. You are unlikely to win converts by describing RapidRide or the 8 to anyone but transit die-hards as “good transit access”.

        This will be the legacy of Metro’s botched TransitNow implementation. It’s their burden, not yours, but it does make arguing down the pro-parking forces a great deal harder.

      2. They have good access to the transit that’s there, which, while shitty, is nearly as good as it gets in most of this town.

    3. You have to strike a balance. At a certain point so many of the reasons for going to a neighborhood are bulldozed in favor of parking lots that people become less likely to go there (and this is what has happened in Lower Queen Anne along with hundreds of inner-city neighborhoods around the US).
      There should be enough parking that visitors who have no access to transit can visit Seattle Center, but only just enough parking for those people who absolutely need it (priced high enough that only people who really need it would be willing to pay) – the rest of the land should be taken up by development that provides the neighborhood with workers and residents who patronize local businesses every day, rather than once a year. And those people will make Lower Queen Anne’s business district and Seattle Center attractions more lively, drawing even more outside visitors to the area.
      Think about it: everyone complains about “parking problems” in Downtown and Capitol Hill and a few other neighborhoods, but those neighborhoods also happen to be our most successful. For every one person who decided not to come to the neighborhood because it was so hard to park, several people came because the neighborhood was so interesting and desirable.

      1. Agreed. I think the point about serving people who are there daily above those who want to visit once a year, or once a month, is the key point. If a preponderance of parking is generally making it a less enjoyable place to live but is convenient for out-of-towners or people visiting from the outskirts of Seattle, that’s not a fair trade. We should always put the needs of the people living in the area (or who want to live in the area) above anyone else’s. They’re the ones actually spending really significant amounts of money in the community on daily purchases and they’re the ones who have to physically live with the consequences of what, and how, we build things in the region.

    4. “Why on earth do we want to demolish parking in town? Honestly, folks, we want to encourage people to visit our City.”

      This particular parking is several times larger than the Uptown neighborhood needs. People would not be parking in vast droves in Uptown if it weren’t for the Center. So if you eliminate one or two of the large venues in the Center, its parking needs go away too. The parking that most gets people’s goat is the surface lots that cover an entire block. That wasn’t there before the Center, and it’s displacing an entire mixed-use building (and its underground garage). It’s also an inefficient way to provide parking. There are multistory parking garages on Mercer Street which are much more efficient at storing cars, and they didn’t exist when these surface lots were built. So if the Center really needs more parking to replace parts of these surface lots, somebody can build a garage somewhere.

      1. +1. When attending large events at Seattle Center with my family, we rarely have trouble finding parking in the Mercer garage. (Don’t judge until you’ve tried to juggle a 5 year old and an 11-month-old on the 358 on a Saturday afternoon after that trip to the Children’s Museum. Mad props to people who can do it without wanting to blow their brains out, I am just not one of them.) So those surface lots on the west side of the center just don’t seem necessary to me.

        Also, we should remember that the Monorail was created in order to move people from downtown to the World’s Fair, and it still works great for that purpose. If there isn’t enough parking at the Center, there’s probably plenty of spaces in the lots in/around Westlake Center. When I was a kid, my family used to do that, and I thought it was SO COOL getting to ride the Monorail. It made that trip to the Science Center or Bumbershoot just that much more fun.

  7. I think they need to give it rent-free to Silver Platters record store and subsidize THAT business for a while.

  8. Knock the Key Arena down? Where will the Rat City Rollergirls bout? Roller Derby has been drawing pretty well at the Key–about 5000 people per bout, which is pretty good considering that it doesn’t get play in the sports media and with the NBA, and possibly the NHL, the Storm and concert events in the new facility, there may not be much of an opportunity for Rat City to utilize it. There will still potentially be a lot of use for the Key with the addition of the new arena–Roller Derby regional and national tournaments, which have not been hosted up to this point as well as college basketball–Seattle U and the Huskies. Additionally, the Indoor Lacrosse league, the Washington Stealth could be lured to play in the Key in the absence of other tenants. Lingerie Football–the Mist?

    Sounds like people are simplistically neglecting a range of activities that could occur in the absence of an NBA there, which we haven’t had anyway for a bunch of years and the Key has been fine.

    1. If you read the linked news articles, you’ll notice that the Key barely makes money now, and in fact loses money if you consider the subsidy the city gives the Storm (and which would go with them if they moved to SODO, which they might well do). Losing the Storm would almost certainly be the last straw for the Arena as a venue.

      1. Without the Storm, Rat City would have greater bout opportunies other than what they get now–tournaments which is potentially necessary for a sport that is growing in popularity, plus as I mentioned, other possibilites such as the local Indoor Lacrosse team that now plays in Everett and lingerie football (draws big crowds). More hillbilly stuff and hipster stuff–tractor pulls, skateboarding competitions.

        There’s still going to be some sort of facility needed locally for events that cannot fit into the schedule of the new arena.

      2. I recall the city doing a study on revenue from Key Arena events right before the Sonics moved. The basketball games were not revenue-positive events. Indeed, they were blocking opportunities to hold more rock concerts that brought in much more revenue.

        So, for an apples-to-apples comparison, we need to answer the question of whether Key Arena is losing more money now than it was when the Sonics played there.

        And of course, this is a government facility. We can’t necessarily expect it to turn a profit any more than we might expect, say, Metro to turn a profit.

        At any rate, I think the time to answer the question of whether to implode Key Arena is once both arenas have been operating for a couple years. Patience. (Oh, and we don’t actually have an NBA franchise yet, so no SODO arena yet.)

      3. Why the heck don’t they take that ice surface that is always there and open the Key up for public ice skating? (Yeah, they do it once a year. I mean regularly. There are no rinks within Seattle.)

    2. I love the Rollergirls, but they only have seven bouts a year. That’s just not enough to be significant income for the Key.

      1. Even if there were considerably more bouts, we wouldn’t need two arenas for it. I don’t see why they couldn’t also head to the new arena if it happens. It would be insane to pass up other uses for this huge amount of space just to cater to this one use, especially when there are so few actual events. Increasing it to 15 or 20 bouts doesn’t change that calculus.

  9. Yes, let knock Key Arena down along with Memorial Stadium and build mixed use public housing. This would save the city a bunch of money and meet a whole bunch of goals that the city has stated it wanted to do as a whole for the city. Kudos, Bruce Nourish.

    discloser – I also live in West Lower Queen Anne.
    I have also learned to be careful what you wish for.

    1. I’m not proposing (and would not propose) public housing. This would be private, mixed-use development, coupled with reconnecting the street grid with pedestrian-oriented streets west of 2nd Ave N.

      1. Other than shelters, we don’t build public housing any more. We use subsidization tools to encourage developers to set aside a certain number or portion of units that can only be rented out to occupants earning less than a certain annual threshold. There is no actual limit to the rent on these set-aside units, so they may sit empty, and the owner may have no problem with the reality that no poor tenants are renting units that would cost over half their maximum-allowed income.

    1. If it’s giving a “run for its money” then doesn’t that mean it can’t handle several large venues?

      Seems like this is just the beginning of the overbuilding boom in Seattle starting to collapse in on itself.

      Read that there will be apartment glut in 5 years…

      Some people don’t know when to stop.

      1. Oh noes! They will build a bunch of apartments and then… stop building for a while! I don’t think we can handle that.

      2. There will always be short periods of high vacancy and low vancancy because the developers can’t start or stop on a dime when the vacancy rate reverses.

  10. I’ve lived nearby for many years, on LQA and now in north Belltown. Crowds of 17,000 were too much for the neighborhood. And I don’t like the way it cuts off both Warren and Harrison as a superblock.

    But that doesn’t mean tearing it down, necessarily. Another option would be a downsized basketball arena, suitable for Seattle U and state high school championships, as well as concerts and so on too small for the new arena. This could be elevated back to street level, atop a new lower level for another purpose. That could be a large relatively long-span area, either public or rented out, like an ice rink, bowling alley, meeting space, etc.

    Or how about doing the two-level thing, and making the whole building a community center? You could make it two levels, with multiple basketball courts plus any number of other things. Even a climbing wall. It might not be any cheaper than building from scratch but it’s worth looking into and would fit well with the Seattle Center’s broad mission.

    With these uses, the area to the south could become open space or have another use, with a walkway through it. The arena itself, if mixed-use enough, could be open 24/7 like the Center House, and no longer a barrier.

    1. Matt, while I don’t disagree with your aversion to “superblocks”, the LQA grid is demonstrably capable of handling such large crowds in a relatively short amount of time.

      Please see my comment below.

    2. Yup. Use the rink in there as a public amenity (many other cities have municipal rinks) and use the rest of it for other things. Could be very cool. Or get the Imagineers to come back and do something cool with it. (Back in the ’80s the Imagineers were hired to do a Seattle Center plan that was rejected.)

      1. I had completely forgotten about that! Everybody hated that plan but I can’t remember why…was it because it was too commercial? Or too Disney?

  11. Demolish the building and rebuild something more modern and similar to Comcast Arena in Everett or Showare Center in Kent, designed to hold smaller crowds and tailored towards the smaller sports, like Lacrosse, Roller Derby, Arena Football, Indoor Soccer, etc.

    It could be built for under $100 million and we could use new space for the inevitable Ballard light rail line. I don’t think turning over city land to private developers would be the best use of land.

    1. Or right-size it for an NHL arena, dominated by box seats, since the joint use is a fantasy if we don’t have an NHL franchise sign on the dotted line before the SODO arena is built.

  12. I think strategic redevelopment of Seattle center on it’s edges with pedestrian oriented mixed use development gets at a lot of the issues that you bring but, but I disagree that there should be a wholesale divestment in the large publicly owned spaces. Yes fairground can be dead during much of the year/day but that is just the name of the game if you want to have facilities that can accommodate these types of events. So fixing the street-level/activity issues around the edges of the Seattle Center is, I think a very good goal, but outright conversion of this public land to private uses is a bad idea.

    1. Also, Seattle Center isn’t that dead on a normal day. I’ve been surprised the few times I’ve gone on an average Tuesday afternoon and found people all over the place, including students at the Center School, neighborhood employees walking to lunch, and of course tourists. The areas north, south, and west of Key Arena are generally pretty dead, but that can be fixed with various renovations.

    2. Restoring 2nd Ave through the current Seattle Center footprint might combine well with the 2-way Mercer St. My ideal would be 2nd being a one-lane southbound street with speed humps, drop-off zones, and a huge bike lane, with the Key Arena footprint remaining a superblock for now. No reason 2nd should be closed to traffic except when there are events. I already use it for cycling southbound… the addition of cars would actually make the biking *easier.* And cars actually trying to get to Seattle Center would have an additional route that doesn’t interfere with the jammed QA Ave area.

      There’s also abortive attempts at retail along the pedestrian-only 2nd Ave. Allowing a single traffic lane might actually help revitalize that.

      I’d say tear the arena down. Create an open-air ampitheater that doubles as parkland. Open 2nd to traffic. Tear down the buildings in the southwest corner, open that area along Thomas St. to private development to fund everything. Keep the building to the north of the arena. Done. No more arena.

  13. Great cities around the world have magnificent operas, thrilling theaters, absorbing museums, and attractive landmark highrise structures like the Space Needle; but the norm is not to put them all in one place.

    So why put all three sports arenas in the same place then?

    1. I’ve never suggested the SODO arena is a good idea. I’m saying if the SODO arena is built, we may as well take the opportunity to rectify this error in Uptown.

    2. The seasons for baseball, basketball, football, soccer and hockey are all different enough so it’s very unlikely you’d have games going on at all 3 stadiums at the same time.

    3. Of course you don’t put a museum in the same building as a stadium (although you could!). The main issue with the stadiums is we had perfectly fine multi-use stadiums (the Kingdome and even KeyArena), but the big sports insisted on single-sport stadiums with their logo all over the building and more luxury boxes, and the city caved to this demand. (At least Paul Allen was smart enough to include soccer and an exhibition pavilion in his stadium, rather than just football, but still you don’t see concerts there and I hear the Home Show and Auto Show are smaller and less interesting now.) The issue of single-use stadiums is different from the issue of scattering diverse arts/entertainment venues throughout the city. I don’t care where they are as long as there’s good transit to them. I.e., SODO, downtown Kent, or downtown Everett is fine, but not for instance around Bellevue College or Juanita.

  14. Does anyone remember the Seattle “Arena”? A smaller 5000 seat multipurpose venue that was popular for concerts, graduation ceremonies, pageants, hockey, etc. It seems to have been shuttered about the time of the Key Arena re-development.

    I liked that that block of Mercer was a civic venue with an Opera House, play house, arena. Reminds one of Lincoln Center a bit.

    My suggestion is to put that $7 Million into resurrecting the Arena which to my mind is an appropriate sized venue for the neighborhood and then tear down and redevelop the Key Arena space. I also think that the monorail should be considered a real transportation solution rather than just a tourist ride. People shouldn’t have the expectation of parking at the Seattle Center, if they must drive, they should park downtown and take the monorail.

    1. “if they must drive, they should park downtown and take the monorail.” For a while, the Monorail was trying to do exactly the opposite. They had a deal for all-day parking plus Monorail rides, aimed at downtown commuters. I’m not sure what happened to that, but I think the fact the monorail doesn’t start running until 7:30am might have something to do with it. I suppose it still might be a good deal if don’t need to get to work before that.

      1. Since the city ostensibly owns the Monorail, operational tidbits like hours of operation can be modified.

    2. Perhaps something can be worked out where you pay the same fare as Metro/ST when paying with an ORCA card, but if you don’t have an ORCA card you pay a few dollars. That way it can function both as a commute tool and as a tourist ride.

    3. I would be agreeable to the refurbishment of the Mercer Arena in lieu of the Key, but I think the price tag for restoration is more like in the neighborhood of 10-20 million. And nobody’s talking about it as an alternative??

      The important thing is, there is going to be an excess of events in Seattle that will require having another facility in place in addition to the new arena.

      Besides, for the bigger acts at Bumbershoot, where the hell are they going to play if you take away the Key and Memorial Stadium????? Are you going to put them on shuttle buses to Hansen’s playpen???

      1. I doubt we need to seriously cater an entire city’s planning and budget resources -and a neighborhood’s future- around 4 days of a single corporation’s (One Reel) cashcow. I’m sure Heart/SteelyDan/REM/The Foo et al can manage to play another time and another day.

    4. It was open for a few years after the Key renovation, I remember seeing a few concerts there in the late 90’s, but it’s being used now for storage for the Seattle Opera because it was underutilized and in need of renovation.

  15. If the new arena is built then Key Arena should be knocked down the very next day.

    But apartments? Na, absolutely not. We should not be taking city property and handing it over to private individuals to develop for their own profit. But such an idea has about zero chance of ever happening so I wouldn’t even put it on the table for discussion.

    I’d just knock it down and convert the hole to some sort of open space with maybe a small outdoor performance venue. Leave the buttresses as a historical art form/monument to a bygone era.

    1. I like your idea a lot. An outdoor venue somewhat framed by those unmistakable buttresses. Pays tribute to the past while being focused on the future. Would be a nice tribute and use of the space.

      1. Ya, there are plenty of design options for such a thing. You could even put a round, gazebo of some sort dead center over center court.

        It would be sort of a nice affect – a classic gazebo dead center between the buttresses inside of a sunken space with steps most of the way around the whole thing. It would work.

        But more apartments? On city property? Na, absolutely not.

      2. Oh god, Seattle’s fetish for open space strikes again. I’d rather have the Key than that.

        The Fountain is plenty of open space for the neighborhood.

      3. Yes we like open spaces, cause Seattle is gorgeous and thats half the point of living here. That being said, I am all for development… but I don’t know why the solution to an awesome park with an element that may need to be updated is to build some cookie cutter apartments that will be way too expensive. There are still other options in the neighborhood for redevelopment, way too many opportunities to be turning over public space. This is my neighborhood too, and I’d love to see parking garages gone, but the idea that you would have to dismantle Seattle Center to do so is a false dichotomy.

        Open or not, turning it into a smaller venue that is economically feasible (2500-5000 seat theatre/music venue?) while using some of the old architecture would be pretty great.

      4. I certainly agree that handing this property over to private developers would probably never happen. That being said, why would handing this property over to private developers be such a bad thing?

        The majority of the time, the area around Key Arena is a dead zone. Building another large venue would do nothing to make the area any less of a dead zone. Mid-rise apartments could potentially be a good way to (1) better define the Seattle Center (as opposed to letting it sprawl out into nothingness), (2) make Seattle Center a livelier area on a more regular basis and on a more human scale (as opposed to giant crowds flooding in for events occasionally), (3) and make Seattle Center a more attractive place to be both for tourists and residents.

      5. I fail to see how a well-integrated ampitheater that doubles as a park when not in use would be worse than an arena that doubles as a big impenetrable cement fortress when not in use.

        I’d keep the building on the north. Develop the southwest along Thomas St. Find someone to design an open space that could double as a large area for a festival stage, or some less claustrophopic locations for vendors than some of what’s tolerated for Bite of Seattle.

    2. Who said anything about taking city property and handing it over to private individuals? It would be sold at market rates, which would get a lot of money for the city.

    3. I know it’s hard to remember on a lovely day like today, but it rains here six months of the year. People do not really enjoy sitting for an hour or two performance in the rain in November. If it’s going to be public space, and it’s going to be outdoors, then make it something to DO, like a rock climbing venue or a mountain bike trail center or the biggest freaking playground ever, or a combination of the three, or something else to DO.

  16. Dive bars? Is that a problem? See, in my language, and most people I know, ‘dive bar’ is a positive designator.

    Also, tearing down KeyArena may eventually be the best option… but Midrise apartments? Geez. This is Seattle Center… we already have places to develop apartments. Anything developed on seattle center grounds needs to be in the spirit of the park.

  17. While I have no skin in the game of KeyArena’s future, I would like to counter the fallacious suggestion by Bruce, Matt Hays, and others that arenas sited within the urban street grid are somehow incompatible with that grid.

    In fact, events at the Key help to demonstrate how successful street grids are at diffusing traffic and clearing it out with an efficiency that would be impossible with limited artery-based access.

    Case in point: In 2008, Radiohead played the White River Amphitheater between Auburn and Enumclaw, an especially egregious example of suburban event planning that requires every patron to eventually merge onto a single two-lane road back toward the highway. I sat in traffic for literally 3.5 hours after the show ended.

    Earlier this year, the same band drew just as many people to the Key. The concert ended only a minute or two before 11, so rather than run to catch a bus that was sure to be caught in the immediate, short-term traffic surge, I lingered for a while in conversation. By the time I went to catch the 11:30 bus, traffic had cleared completely and LQA was its normal weeknight ghost town. My bus was on time and relatively empty.

    King County Metro was not responsible for this 7x faster clearing of traffic. Let’s face it: transit in Seattle is terrible, and evening transit triply so. Transit usage to evening events won’t be making the slightest dent in total traffic volumes any time soon. It’s the grid that made the difference here.

    Drivers could leave via two eastern routes and multiple southern routes, diffuse themselves through all of LQA’s side streets to the west, or even snake over Queen Anne Hill to avoid the arterial surge. Even with the Seattle Center interrupting the grid in one direction, many options still exist.

    Of course, a usable mass-transit connection to an urban arena is ideal: The streets around Boston Garden events are no worse than at any rush hour; and Madison Square Garden has an almost undetectable impact on its consistently-busy-anyway surrounding grid.

    But those who advocate for moving all arena functions to SoDo should realize that they’re making things worse. The long, unpleasant overpass-labyrinth to Link and the total dearth of reasons to linger in the “stadium district” will make taking transit anathema to the vast majority. And thanks to the highways and the railway main line, the grid does not exist: there’s one road north, one south, three east (merging down to two), and that’s it. It doesn’t matter that the highway entrances are all a block from the parking exits; just ask Arlington, Texas how well that works out for traffic.

    If you absolutely must have large sporting venues in your midst, a gridded area like LQA is precisely the place they should be!

    1. I have nothing but love for grids, and I’m not for the SODO arena. I’m opposed to large collections of large venues in residential neighborhoods, and I’m in favor of ripping this one down as the opportunity presents itself. I don’t see why Uptown needs be wrecked to prove a point about grids.

      1. I’m one of those who finds the Seattle Center in general to be lacking, boring, underutilized, more “in the way” than an urban asset — I thoroughly agree with your observation that “the norm is not to put” all of your cultural eggs in one basket.

        But I guess I kind of like KeyArena and find it about as attracting and functional as any large limited-use entertainment venue could possibly be. The form that its roofline and structural engineering create is interesting and unique, and atypically attractive for that era. The guts of the building are so deeply sunken that the above-grade silhouette doesn’t impose terribly upon its surroundings.

        Even the plaza isn’t terribly excessive for the number of people who use it, barely larger than Counterbalance Park (which has an attendance of about 50 people a year).

        Imagine if the “Team Shop” south of the plaza and the least-used Northwest Rooms north of the plaza (a.k.a. that blank wall behind the bus stop) were replaced by 3-story, street-facing, mixed-use buildings. Suddenly you’ve activated 2/3 of the block, and the arena frontage is a blip you barely even notice unless you want to. (That bus stop wall does more to deflate the walkability of the area than the Key could ever dream of doing!)

        I think that you are incorrectly ascribing the lackluster nature of the neighborhood to the arena. It is the artifacts of the automobile era — old buildings with street frontage lost to parking lots and middling replacements full of car-owning yuppies who drive in and out via the basements, to all of which you allude — that make LQA suck. That may rectify itself slowly as those yuppies move away from the vices of the last century and embrace the perks of this one, but this will have nothing to do with whether or not KeyArena survives.

      2. The new buildings generally have far better parking ratios than they used to, like 0.8 per unit or whatever. I’m not looking them up, but that’s typical for this sort of neighborhood.

        Connections to the neighborhood are getting better quickly. Quite a few new apartments are going up on all sides of the Center, providing every-day or at least every-week people (like me). We’re finally about to get rid of most of the Great Wall of Aurora. Apparently KEXP is taking over the corner of Republican and First one of these days, with a door to the street. Cornish is likely to take over the Playhouse, which would be shared with other organizations including the Intiman. The Gates Foundation is a major new employer across the street.

    2. I wrote about re-connecting the grid, not taking away from it. And I was specific to pedestrians, i.e. being able to walk through the arena site even if it remains as a building.

      1. But you also argued that the area not being able to handle all of the “crowds” the arena brings into it, something that is demonstrably untrue.

        A better grid will always disperse an en masse dump of people and traffic better than a worse grid. But LQA’s grid really performs pretty well under current circumstances.

        The transit nightmare of Bumbershoot

      2. or Folklife has little to do with the traffic either, and everything to do with Metro’s total incompetence when it comes to providing service to match demand, and its inability to improvise its way out of a paper bag.

        If you want to see what an arena that really gums up everything when events get out looks like, just wait for SoDo.

      3. The neighborhood can handle crowds, but it’s still overwhelmed by them. Restaurants can have lines at 6:00 and be mostly empty at 7:30. Mercer and Denny are jammed before and/or after major events, specifically because the grid is broken at Aurora (reconnecting it should help significantly). I agree with the person who didn’t like the constant loudspeaker announcements.

    3. I was completely in agreement with you until the last couple paragraphs. The Stadium District will have really good transit very soon. You will be able to take a light rail train from South Seattle, North Seattle and the East Side. The “total dearth of reasons to linger” only works in favor of taking transit. Why drive at all if all you are doing is going back and forth to the game? On the other hand, if you want to visit your favorite restaurant in Georgetown before the game, then driving makes sense.

      Your description of Boston Garden will be closer to what will occur than the current situation at the Seattle Center. This is certainly the case with Husky Stadium, which has tons of buses show up for football games. Of course, parking has a lot to do with it as well. My guess is that a lot of people who go to Seahawk games park on the street or at cheap lots. That really isn’t a practical option for Husky Stadium (and outlawed in many cases). If the city really wanted to cut down on traffic for game days, it could do the same thing (ban street parking on particular days).

      1. I can only hope that some of this $40 million transportation fund for SODO goes towards improving the pedestrian connection between the arena and the light rail. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it all goes to moving more cars on the street instead.

      2. Boston Garden actually has a fractured grid around it, which is why rush hour and event traffic can be equally strained (though still much better than what you’d experience around auto-oriented event centers like Dodger Stadium or the Rosemont Horizon).

        But the “transit” situation is nothing like SoDo. Boston Garden sits on top of a commuter rail station serving the entire northern half of the suburbs.

        You can literally go down the escalator from your seat and get on your train.

        Meanwhile, two of the four major subway lines have an entrance right outside the building. It’s about a 15-second walk. You cross zero streets.

        Fenway Park makes you cross a highway to get to the subway, but even there SoDo comparisons are inapt. It’s a total walk of 4 minutes. Crossing the Pike takes all 40 seconds of that, and involves no steep or circuitous use of overpasses; the rest of your walk is through busy brick urbanity. Again, you cross zero major streets and have to wait for zero lights to get to the nearest tunnel entrance.

        SoDo will never be like that. At least CenturyLink events have a decent walk to the I.D., with the only blockage being the width of the King Street bridge and the long light cycle where it meets 4th. For each event center or stadium to the south of CenturyLink, the access to transit gets further, the overpass situation gets more ridiculous, the weather exposure gets more brutal, and the usage rate of transit to get to the event drops. Take this to the bank: transit access to the new SoDo arena will be off the public’s radar!

        Why drive at all if all you are doing is going back and forth to the game?… On the other hand, if you want to visit your favorite restaurant in Georgetown before the game, then driving makes sense.

        When the arena is located in the city, you have the entire city around for pre- and post-event additions to your elective outing. Having reasons to linger — having chances for spontaneity — that’s what gets people to choose transit.

        If you’re just going to go from home to event to home, you’re thinking in “door-to-door” terms. And in SoDo, your car will get you closer to both doors and with less hassle. Having nothing else around is a net negative in giving people reasons to think beyond that calculus.

  18. My parents met at the Flag Pavilion at the Seattle Center, just outside the Coliseum, in 1964. Without the Seattle Center, I would not exist. But I think it’s long past for that whole area to be reimagined.

    I think keeping most of the existing open space and venues for concerts is fine. Folk Life and Bumbershoot are local cultural events that should not be jettisoned, that won’t really work anywhere else. But I don’t see a future for Key Arena, and I think it should be torn down either for more open space or another, more right-sized venue.

    But the main thing is that the area needs to be refocused on local events and uses the other 95% of the time. I want to see private development at the edges of the area to draw in activity, including as much new residential development as possible (so that there’s a constituency for all that open space). I want a wider variety of commercial events and businesses within to give people a reason to be there. I want better transit connections, including a Seattle Subway stop. There’s a lot that can be done, but first we have to stop trying to remake a world’s fair from 50 years ago and start making something new.

  19. I’ve also been thinking about replacing KeyArena and the surrounding buildings with something else. Residential might be OK, but only after a through evaluation of all potential non-residential civic uses. Housing can go anywhere, and needs only one good transit line to the trunk(s). But civic venues need multiple transit lines converging on it from all directions. There are few other locations where a “community center” or a “roller-derby arena” could effectively go. Seattle Center has the space and transit commitment for civic venues, so we should think twice before converting part of it to housing.

    1. “Housing can go anywhere, and needs only one good transit line to the trunk(s).”

      What?? Nononono.

      1. I think Mike’s point is that residential development inherently does not see the kind of unidirectional demand convergence that you see with civic buildings.

        There’s two reasons for this. First, civic buildings tend to have extremely high demand peaks. If there’s a game at Husky Stadium, then to a first approximation, every spectator arrives and leaves at the same time. In a residential building, demand tends to be much more dispersed.

        And second, civic buildings, when in use, are *extremely* dense. Husky Stadium seats 72,000 people. Key Arena seats 16,000. Seattle Center as a whole is 74 acres, meaning that, even if the rest of the center is empty, there’s an effective density of over 150,000 people per square mile.

        It’s not that we don’t need better transit in residential areas — of course we do. But Seattle Center (and LQA in general) is one of the most transit-accessible sites in the Pacific Northwest [see what I did there? ;-)], and so it makes sense to reserve that site for uses, like civic buildings, that have the highest mobility demands.

      2. Housing can just as easily go to Beacon Hill station or the Central District and it would still have good enough transit to satisfy many residents (assuming a CD reorganization goes through someday). The only people who are affected by housing’s location (and thus generate transit ridership) are the residents and their guests. But a business pulls in people from the entire neighborhood or district, and a venue like a stadium or a theater or a community center pulls in people from all over the city, from all directions.

        Seattle Center is a limited block of land that has been dedicated for civic-venue spaces, and the transit routes have been designed for that. It has more extensive transit service — directly to more parts of the city — than anywhere except downtown and the U-district. This is a precious resource, and we have to make sure the widest cross-section of citizens benefits from it.

        Yes, I would love a condo at KeyArena with ten major bus routes nearby and the Monorail and a future subway station… but that would benefit only me and the 299 others in the building, out of a city of 600,000 and a region of 3.2 million, the vast majority of whom don’t have nearly that much transit at their doorstep.

        So we need to assign Seattle Center land to whatever use benefits the widest cross-section of citizens. But just outside the Center are three surface parking lots (I counted them as we passed by on the D today) that could easily be converted to housing… and there’s your housing!

      3. Mike, thank you for effectively debunking the Eastlake streetcar in your third paragraph!

        Expensive boondoggle benefits only the residents of a few present and a few more hypothetical buildings. No one else needs the thing, and no one else will ever use it.

        Which makes it a really poor investment for the 600,000 other Seattle citizens who would be asked to pay for it.

    2. I wanted to push back on one notion that neighborhoods should only serve their own intrinsic needs. In the case of the Seattle Center, it is a venue for all residents of the city to use and indeed, the region to visit. It IS a destination and people go out of their way to visit it. That does mean that there are impacts and that the neighborhood hopefully gains some economic benefit from hosting that activity.

      LQA has the vibrancy that an urban center should have. Improving transit there including a subway stop will only make things better. Adding more residential is a good thing for this neighborhood. The blocks taken up by the Mercer parking structures should be redeveloped. I’d like to see Key Arena redeveloped into a smaller venue on the size of Comcast Arena (Everett) that is the right size for concerts e.g. bigger than the Paramount, smaller than Key or SODO is going to be.

      1. Done right, Key Arena could be a nice complement to the WaMu Theater, or whatever they’re calling it now.

      2. It’s still called the WaMu Theater — intact logo for the defunct bank and all! It’s kind of great to have such an anachronism still floating around.

        Unfortunately, the reason it still has that name is that it is a terrible, awkward concrete box to which only a business making perpetual terrible business decisions would want to buy the naming rights.

  20. Crazy idea: Supertall. It’s the one of the few places I can think of with a block large enough. Ok, so it would be massively out of character with the neighborhood and would dwarf the space needle. And I’m not sure we could even convince a developer to build one there. But at, say, 3M sf of real estate created, that’s an extra 2,000+ homes in Seattle.

    1. Not to mention that the Space Needle, one of the nation’s top tourist destinations, and a big contributor to the local economy, depends on views. That’s why everything around it is, and should remain, zoned so that nothing tall can be built around it.m

    1. I was a commons guy (volunteer then staffer) and even I don’t like that idea. The Center already has a lot of park space. Further, LQA is about to get a skybridge to the waterfront, “adding” a park as well as a good bike route. I’d love to see more green space dotted around Greater Downtown, including SLU, but we don’t need that much more at the Center.

      On the flip side, I like the idea of redoing the stadium as a public park with grandstands, as has been discussed in master planning.

  21. I’ll probably be way in the minority here but I’d like to see Key converted into a large indoor pool facility.

    1. I was thinking year round ice surface. Should be enough room to add an aquatics center to the mix. Seattle Center needs more activities that attracts NW natives on a regular basis.

      1. It has a year-round ice surface already. It was built into it. If I recall correctly, it is under the basketball floor or whatever floor is in the place for other events. We aren’t using it very often, and we need to use it.

      2. I agree it would be great if they could convert the building into a public ice rink, although it might be cheaper to tear the building down and build a new rink.

  22. So who exactly owns the Monorail?

    What would it cost to integrate the fares into ORCA?

    How much to run extra hours?

    1. The City of Seattle owns it, but it’s operated privately. I believe it’s one of the few transit systems in the country that operates at a profit. Profits are split between the operator and the city.

      1. Correct but it’s a stretch to call it a transit system. It’s a tourist attraction. It would be sort of like calling the Duck a transit system. The Monorail has a history that makes it attractive (hint, hint, WF streetcar) and it ties Seattle Center, which is starting to look more like the Space Needle with EMP nearby to DT shopping. It’s really a shame that Seattle politicians seem hell bent on destroying the legacy they were handed but I guess legacies don’t write campaign contribution checks.

      2. Considering it makes the trek between Westlake Park and Seattle Center in 90 seconds, I think it’s a compelling transportation solution.

        Indeed, people could park if they have to drive, in the city owned Pacific Place garage and walk the 3 blocks to the monorail station and be whisked to the Seattle Center in short order.

  23. I love the Key Arena. I think it’s very handsome, and I find the people who think that it’s ugly to be of exactly the same sort of short-sighted and simple-minded mindset who, in 1962, were advocating for the demolition and redevelopment of Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market.

    Redevelop the building into something else, if you want, but keep the exterior intact. It is as much of an icon as the Pacific Science Center and the International fountain. It is one of the four base elements of the original center.

    1. Native Seattleite here, and I agree. It sometimes seems that people are hellbent on destroying everything that I loved about Seattle Center growing up here.

      1. I’d love to see the shell remain, but fill it with something more entertaining AND EFFiCIENT PER SQ FT than stadium/concert space. Spitballing a brainstorm here, but:
        IMO The coliseum/key arena resembles -in addition to mt rainier and native cedar-fiber hats as originally intended- one of the disneyland mountains, (Space Mt) and Seattle Center would not be hurt by a new and UNIQUE tourism draw, one that excites both local and worldwide audiences. Like an amusement park / thrill ride, or even a collection of them, with some other use, intertwined under one roof. Open 7 days. Featuring kid as well as adult fun. Cut through the roof for some postmodern windows and throw in a topfloor hightech conference center too, with upview on the needle. Make it a somewhat STEM-themed place that schools will line up to bring their field-trips to, like a hybrid LEGOland meets Innovations — Essentially a roof-covered ‘Tomorrowland’ for Seattle. Which, admit it, couldn’t be more appropriately-themed for a campus featuring the Pacific Science Center and the Space Needle. This would even give a nod to the old Century 21 Fair.
        Daily use would mean more regular revenue that a dimishing handful of sports event nights. I can imagine a thrillride coaster zipping around the inside ring of the building, weaving in and out. Some scrambler type rides on the center floor. Icerink bumper cars. I’ll leave the details to imagineers, but this gives the general idea. The recent trade of funforest for glass garden means we currently have less youth-oriented non-art activies (fairweather fountain use and children’s museum excepted, but they were there alongside the FunForest), so the amusement park aspects of this brainstorm draw more families. Indoors means it operates rain or shine and without patrons being soaked (which was never true for the fun forest). Big local industries such as AMZN, MSFT and BA all would have a stake in investing in such a STEM tomorrowland – I think we could all easily imagine the kinds of expo / exhibits they could house there (think: Museum of Flight jr, PSC II, etc).
        Just an idea…

  24. Tear it down and build an urban ice arena for public ice skating and ice hockey. Both San Francisco and Oakland have them.

    Given the ice rink size requirements these typically dont fit in the city but with this existing superblock this would be the place for an urban ice rink. I very much dislike superblocks, but you might as well use your few superblocks for buildings/uses that require the extra space rarely found elsewhere in urban areas.

      1. It seems like excess size and seating capacity for a regular ice rink, too much space devoted to spectators and staging large performances and not enough for rink users

      2. Don’t have to keep the seating capacity. If the sports palace gets built in Sodo then there’s really no call for another venue that is roughly the same size. The idea to remodel it into an 8,000 seat space makes sense. Flexible seating would be the key to making it work for a number of different types of events.

  25. I suspect hundreds of apartment units were demolished to build the Seattle Center from both 1st and 5th avenues North.

  26. KeyArena should be torn down and Seattle Center needs to be hit with a giant eraser.

    Wipe the slate clean, perhaps shrink the footprint, and create something new.

    Even something as simple as faux Central Park would be an improvement.

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