Hard on the heels of Hartford renovating its 41 year old XL Center for $250 million comes the news that Seattle has given up trying to build a new arena and will renovate the existing 55 year old Key Arena instead. By the time the dust settles, the remodeled Key Arena will have approximately 18,300 seats for an NBA team and 17,100 seats for an NHL team. The renovation will cost $564 million. And it is being reported in Sports Illustrated at least that the plan is to get an NHL team first and then an NBA team.
It all sounds wonderful when you think about the positives. Seattle finally joins the NHL after becoming the first American city to win the Stanley Cup exactly a century ago; the NHL gets another western city to make a symmetrical 32, balances up the conferences and then gets to realign into an NFL structure of 2 conferences of 4 divisions each with 4 teams that allows the league to expand easily to 40 and then 48 teams; the NHL gets another $500 million expansion fee; an obvious hockey market that should have got an NHL team long ago finally joins the big leagues; and Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Las Vegas, and all the California teams get a great new rival. Everybody should be happy. It solves so many problems.
But I’m not jumping on the bandwagon. Hold on a minute. Aren’t there a few expensive and questionable “peculiarities” about all this? For example:
Flames ownership has said that a 34 year old building, bigger and better than the Key Arena is not even good enough to be renovated and a brand new building, part of a project that nobody can even get a clear cost about has to be built. The pouty Flames ownership has even threatened to move the Flames from Calgary if they don’t get their way and earlier this year, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary and urged the local municipal government to accept this costly project. Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? Neither the Flames ownership nor the NHL will say. It has been renovated once and perhaps a much cheaper upgrade will do the trick. But if the NHL and one of its teams can’t accept a 34 year old renovated building, one of the league’s bigger and better arenas, how can they accept a 41 year renovated building in Hartford and a 55 year old renovated building in Seattle?
The seating capacity for NHL hockey is only 17,100. That is well below the NHL median of over 18,000 seats. That would make it the third smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg and the New York Islanders. Probably in a few years, Seattle will need a new arena. Is this renovation really worth doing?
17,100. Isn’t that less than the seating capacity that Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario has? The same Copps Coliseum (built in 1985, so that it is only 32 years old) that many NHL people say is obsolete and that a new arena has to be built for Hamilton to get a team? When poor Jim Balsille tried to get the Phoenix Coyotes for Hamilton, the city council said they would spend $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum so that it reached the NHL median of 18,500. Yet the NHL says a much younger and larger NHL arena than the one to be renovated in Seattle is not good enough.
$50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum. How come it costs only $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum to a bigger and better arena than in Seattle while it costs $564 million to renovate the Key Arena to a seating capacity that is less than that in the current Hamilton arena? The money that Seattle will spend on renovation is the type of money that can build a brand new arena. Quebec spent $375 million on a bigger, brand new arena. It has been estimated that a new arena in Hartford will cost $500 million. $564 million sounds pretty expensive for renovations in Seattle.
So will we have sensible sober second thought in Seattle? Or will we have mindless sports franchise worship that is willing to spend countless sums of money on a project that I think is half-assed and could be spent more wisely on a new bigger and better arena that should hold up for decades? And how can this project be accepted by the NHL after its excuses and stand in Calgary and Hamilton? Seattle had better get some NHL answers, even a guarantee before a single cent is spent on this project. Like Hartford, it runs the risk of spending a huge sum of money for either a stopgap or nothing.