Phil Caldwell

Sports Blogging With a Grin

Seattle To Get a New Privately-Funded Retractable-Roof Waterfront Arena and Concert venue?

with 5 comments

(Originally published in Bleacher Report on 10/3/2011)

Don’t look now kids, but remember that wild retractable roof basketball arena that Fred Brown proposed?  The one we all forgot about?

Well rumors are flowing that the concept might not be dead after all, and in-fact is very much alive.  There’s a big group of high-powered suited architects with designer haircuts frantically working on conceptual plans to present to the city.  Names known to many but will not be mentioned here.

Back in 2008 during the failed negotiations to save the professional basketball for Seattle, out of the blue came a rather radical vision led by former Sonic Fred Brown and public-relations executive Dave Bean, to build a new privately funded project known as the Emerald City Center.

It would be a $1 billion sports and exposition complex that would include a a retractable roof arena capable of housing both an NBA and NHL franchise.

Once fans across Seattle stopped laughing and listened to the proposal, it wasn’t as crazy as it sounded.  In fact, it was sorta cool.

Especially since Seattle had a popular “Summer Nights on the Pier” concert series located at Pier 62/63 along Alaskan Way, that was sucking in tourists from across the planet.  That was until, the pier deteriorated so badly that the series had to be relocated.

But it was a big hit all summer long when it was going on, with 18-22 concerts played by well-known artists on warm summer nights with private small craft swaying to soft waves midst the setting sun.  Glistening waters of the Puget Sound, seagulls in the night, the Olympics beyond.  The works!

A huge tourist draw, but the venue was too small for the really big acts.

Seven years ago all the sports stations in Seattle were summoned for a new radical idea for a retractable roof basketball arena on the Seattle waterfront.  Fred Brown’s group didn’t have the funding, nor a secure site, nor even a plan, other than a conceptual plastic model on cardboard.  Hardly the kind of fiscal structure necessary to get the project rolling.

Enter Seattle developer and high-end residential consultant Nitze-Stagen & Co, who has been trying to wrest control of the 89 acre Pier 46 site from the Port of Seattle since before 2003, which back then leased it to the agency’s largest shipping customer, Hanjin, for 10 years with an option to extend it another five.

The Port, with their tight lease deals already signed,  has long scoffed at this group of developers, according to Frank Stagen, who claimed back in 2004 that one port official mocked “You don’t own one spoonful of the dirt” when Stagen’s group were probing for planning details and irritating DCLU officials for info.

Things have moved along ever since.

In fact Nitze-Stagen, the same group that just cut dirt on the new North Lot apartment project by Centurylink Field, and is involved with massively redeveloping parts of the Pioneer Square area, has a glitzy website with snazzy schematic drawings bragging about this Pier 46 project.

Entitled “Vision 46,” the debate for the site was between Containers vs Condos.  Nitze-Stagen argues the entire cargo area, which was created from backfill during the 1970s, should today be redeveloped with a mix of high-density urban village activities, such as a major hotel, thousands of housing units and offices, a cruise ship terminal, retail, education and even a trolley line.

Included in residential buildings and commercial space, is…ahem…an anchor arena building right on the water, that looks very similar to what Fred Brown’s group proposed in 2008.  A new basketball/hockey arena, just perfect for concerts and whatever else might want to retract a roof.

It’s the perfect location too.  Located at the south entrance of the new waterfront tunnel project, there’s already existing freeway connections to nearby Safeco Field, the convention center and the football/soccer stadium.

With all the connections already built, it’s a cinch.  Plus it’s close enough to the ferry’s for walkers, and light rail already connects the area too.  What’s not to love?

And with construction gearing up as the viaduct is about to be razed, the timing appears perfect too. Which is why architects are working frantically behind-the-scenes, on drawings and budgets, and why this group just managed to get the Longshoreman union to agree to let someone else use this site.

A big huge deal and reportedly THE major hurdle that was holding everything up.

Rumored to be key in this project is a retractable roof arena design.  And why not? 

On the water, large crowds of 20-25,000 could swoon to summer tunes with a removed roof in the summer.  Shows wouldn’t have to worry about the weather, because any formerly rained-out events could still carry on.

Especially if the venue was open on the water side, with a “U” shaped arena bowl facing fans towards the Olympic Mountain Range.

Imagine a new Sonics team playing Game 7 of the finals under partly cloudy skies with the water in background.  Imagine an NHL team doing the same.  Or a national political convention with sunsets and flying fish.

Not so crazy an idea after all, now is it?  But enough to get city nimrods on board who still look stupid for their comments about how the Sonics offered no cultural value?

This project has something for everyone, and with private developers leading the charge, we might actually be looking at a viable candidate,  in terms of proposed arenas in the Seattle area that have a chance to be built!


5 Responses

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  1. I think the people of Seattle ought to get off the idea of bringing the NBA back. If David Stern crapped on the city once, he would do it again in a heartbeat. Why the heck else did he move the team from a city as beautiful as Seattle to an outback hick joint like Oklahoma City?


    October 3, 2011 at 9:30 am

  2. Thanks Phil. I’m always skeptical however for two reasons. Funding in this economic environment would take real creativity and force of will that the Mayor and council have rarely shown. Private money won’t do this type of project without the help of tax payers. Love the thought of Lady GaGa and LeBron by the water. Best. Kevin Calabro

    Kevin Colabro

    October 3, 2011 at 6:13 pm

  3. Phil,

    I’m currently a 5th year student of the Penn State University Architectural Engineering department focusing in construction management Currently I’m working on my senior thesis with three other students, one from each of the disciplines (mechanical, structural, and lighting/electrical). Our senior thesis project is an in depth look at the development of the new Penn State ice hockey arena. Penn State hockey is going division 1 next fall, and the facility is slated to begin construction in January.

    The reason I’m writing is response to your Bleacher Report, “Seattle NHL/NBA Arena Could be Waterfront Retractable Roof at Pier 46.” My team’s project requirements include taking the drawings and improve the building’s overall design and energy consumption. What intrigued me about your article was the retractable roof. My team received the project at the beginning of the semester and decided at that time that we wanted to change the roof and design a retractable roof for the facility. It’s funny how when doing research, I came across your article at the beginning of this month. I was wondering and hoping that you might have a contact that I may be able to get in contact with to discuss the parameters and decisions that went into wanting the type of roof for the this venue. Although many forball arenas with retractable roofs host basketball games, it’s not been heard of of placing one on a hockey arena.

    Do you have a contact that I may be able to get in touch with, whether it be an owner, a representative, engineer, architect, or anyone with an affiliation with the venue? You’re help would be greatly appreciated as it would help further our thesis research.


    Jeremy Heilman

    October 11, 2011 at 11:07 am

  4. seems to me the spot is actually directly due south of safecos parking garage and not the waterfront location. There was a hugle block just sold last week there. Are you sure its the waterfront location you mention in the article,those renderings are 7-8 years old.


    December 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm

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