SBJ/August 29 - September 4, 2005/Facilities

Firms will explore renovation options for Seattle’s KeyArena

The city of Seattle has hired 360 Architecture and local designer SRG Partnership to review further the options for renovating publicly owned KeyArena, home of the NBA Sonics and WNBA Storm, confirmed Terry McLaughlin, executive vice president for both teams.

The two architects have previously discussed renovating the facility with the city and the teams. Those talks were part of the plan to address building upgrades at the midway point of the tenants’ 15-year lease, said Perry Cooper, media relations manager for Seattle Center, which includes KeyArena.

“We did a study a year and a half ago on what could be done, but never really completed it,” said Brad Schrock, 360 principal.

The Sonics and Storm play at KeyArena, which was redeveloped and renamed 10 years ago.
The Sonics and Storm play in the smallest arena in the NBA and WNBA in terms of square footage, McLaughlin said, and the teams would like the city to approve construction that would almost double the size of the building’s footprint from 386,000 square feet to 730,000 square feet.

The work would involve extending KeyArena’s glass walls outward to create 90,000 additional square feet of concourse space and excavating underneath the arena between street level and the event level three floors below to develop club seats, dressing rooms, meeting rooms, 400 parking spaces and a private arena entrance for those new premium-seat patrons, McLaughlin said.

The problem is the city hasn’t figured out how to pay for the estimated $200 million renovation, and the Sonics and Storm don’t plan on funneling any more of their money into the facility, McLaughlin said. State officials have said they have more important concerns than updating KeyArena.

Ten years ago, Ackerley Communications, the Sonics’ previous owner, committed to paying for the entire $73.4 million redevelopment of the former Seattle Coliseum, which opened in 1962, into KeyArena. Ackerley shared revenue with the city from naming rights, suite and club seat leases and parking and concession income to pay off the bonds used to initially finance the improvements.

The Basketball Club of Seattle, a group of investors led by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz, bought the team in 2001 and owes the city between $55 million and $60 million in construction debt despite paying the municipality an average of $8 million in revenue the past several seasons, McLaughlin said. The new owners assumed responsibility for paying the debt when they acquired the team.

Ownership issued a news release earlier this year stating that the teams have lost $41 million in the last five years, in large part because of a premium-seat market that turned “very soft” after Safeco Field and Qwest Field opened in Seattle, and to a lesser extent, 2-year-old Everett (Wash.) Events Center, 20 miles away, McLaughlin said.

Only 22 of KeyArena’s 53 suites are occupied, he said. The three newer venues added 189 suites to the Seattle community in the last five years, McLaughlin said.

The Sonics eliminated 1,100 club seats four seasons ago because of low demand, but did sell out the 90-seat, all-inclusive club section built in the south end zone before last season. The $125 seats include a food buffet in a lounge setting and the Sonics are planning another all-inclusive area in the arena’s north end for the coming year, McLaughlin said.

As part of the proposed renovation, the Sonics would introduce the modestly priced loge seats featuring high-back chairs, flat-screen television monitors and exclusive access to a bar and restaurant that have proved to be popular at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Toyota Center in Houston and FedEx Forum in Memphis.

The teams’ arena leases expire in 2010 and the city has until 2015 to retire the bonds, so local officials are interested in finding a solution to help the Sonics become profitable and maintain KeyArena as an economically viable venue, Cooper said.

MY NORTHERN KENTUCKY HOME: Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights selected the team of 360 Architecture and Cincinnati-based GBBN Architects to design the 10,000-seat Bank of Kentucky Center, said Jane Meier, the school’s athletic director.

The 360/GBBN venture beat out bids submitted by national firms Ellerbe Becket, HOK Sport, NBBJ, Rosser International, Rossetti and TVS and Associates.

University officials expect to break ground in eight months and fast-track construction on the $60 million project for a fall 2007 opening, Meier said. The state needs to select a general contractor to build the arena, she said.

The school, which has an enrollment of 14,000, is targeting 120 events annually and put a 10-year facility operations contract out for bid. Global Spectrum and SMG are the finalists and a decision is expected in mid-September, said Larry Blake, Northern Kentucky’s assistant vice president for facilities management.

Bank of Kentucky signed a 20-year, $6 million naming-rights agreement for the arena, which is seven miles from Cincinnati.

ATLANTA RECONSTRUCTION: In the aftermath of the July 6 tornado that caused $40 million in damage to Atlanta Motor Speedway, Speedway Motorsports Inc. has tapped into a new suite market.

Area businesses seeking affordable premium accommodations for NASCAR races now have the option of buying a suite for as little as $22,000 for two Nextel Cup events.

The speedway had to rebuild about 90 of the 127 suites around the track, and the opportunity presented itself for SMI to construct 16-seat skyboxes to replace some of the larger units damaged by the storm, said Ed Clark, the facility’s president and general manager.

Atlanta had already planned on building smaller suites after officials saw what Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway did with a similar project, he said.

SMI built 12 of the 16-seaters on the main suite level hovering over the speedway’s front stretch and sold seven of them within the first three weeks at a special introductory price of $22,000 for the Bass Pro Shops MBNA Race Weekend in late October and the Golden Corral 500 Race Weekend next March.

The cost of those suites increases to $25,000 after October for the two Nextel Cup weekends, Clark said. The larger suites are priced as high as $78,000.

Suite revenue won’t be affected greatly with the smaller units because SMI incorporated three 16-person suites into a reconfigured press box structure that didn’t previously have premium seats, said Greg Walter, the track’s director of sales.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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