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NHL Seattle engages Rockwell Group for unique arena experiences

Oak View Group (OVG) has said it plans to “change the vision of the arena experience forever” through a partnership with architecture and design firm the Rockwell Group for New Arena at Seattle Center, while a subsidised public transport scheme has also been revealed for the project.

NHL Seattle, a new franchise in the North American ice hockey league, is due to commence play at the facility in 2021, with a $930m (£719.7m/€855.2m) project currently underway to transform Seattle’s old KeyArena into the team’s new home.

OVG, which is leading the effort to build the privately-financed arena, has now shed light on its partnership with the Rockwell Group, which will lead to the development of seven spaces designed to be “once-in-a-lifetime experiences”. Rockwell is renowned for high-end interiors at hotels, museums and restaurants, with NHL Seattle representing its biggest sports project to date.

The seven spaces offer a mix of clubs, suites and lounge areas. Five will be classed as premium, incorporating a private restaurant, sideline suites and event-level suites featuring windows to the players’ tunnel. However, the other two promise to reinvent the wheel for the arena market.

One is a private concourse and food hall that can be used by 1,300 NHL general seating ticket-holders in the upper bowl. The other is a club that will be a hybrid space with views to Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. It will be utilised by general seat ticket-holders during NHL games and concerts, while being opened up to social and corporate parties on other days and nights.

NHL Seattle said the seven spaces and associated seating equal approximately 20% of all seating options, but will generate significant revenue. Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, told the team’s official website: “We have less suites in the New Arena than any new building built in the US over the last 10 years.

“We actually limited the number of suites. My brother (and NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke) is very focused on the atmosphere in the bowl. We want to make sure the bowl is tight and loud with perfect acoustics.”

He added: “The genius of these clubs and suites is we’ve tucked them away so they don’t disrupt the culture of the fans in the bowl. Club spaces are typically built out for the access and amenity. We thought what if the clubs are not an afterthought but part of the vision and lifestyle experience?”

Rockwell will work in association with Populous, the architect of record, to implement the seven spaces. Shawn Sullivan, one of three partners at Rockwell, told the Seattle Times newspaper: “We’re hoping and we really believe that this collection as a whole isn’t just checking a bunch of boxes.

“When you come and move around after some events, you’ll see a space. And then, when you come back a month later, you see another space and it will always feel like a really rich assortment of Seattle-inspired spaces. And you’ll really recognise the diversity amongst all of them. None of them are similar in any way, and we think that’s great.”

Sullivan predicts the Space Needle Club will become a real talking point at the reimagined arena. “It really does kind of capture the Needle’s essential characteristics,” he said. “It’s in the upper levels of the building and it’s under an area that has a skylight that peeks right up at the Needle.

“I mean, it just had to be so thoughtfully located and planned that just by cranking your head slightly you get this perfect alignment in the skylight. In most of these buildings, you never think you’re going to look outside.”

In other news, NHL Seattle has announced it is entering into a partnership with the Seattle Monorail which includes making capital improvements and will result in subsidised public transit for all fans attending hockey games at the New Arena.

The NHL team’s decision to include free public transit via ORCA, the regional transit pass card, with season ticket packages and single-game tickets is intended to encourage fans to be part of a better flow to and from games. It represents phase one of a three-part plan to be unveiled in the coming months.

NHL Seattle becomes the first Seattle-based sports franchise and only the third professional sports organisation in the US to offer a free public transit benefit for fans. Only the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors have similar programs.

As part of the partnership with SMS, the current Monorail operator, NHL Seattle will make a private capital investment of up to $6m for upgrades at the Westlake station. “The Monorail is generally thought of as a tourist attraction or ride,” said Lance Lopes, NHL Seattle executive vice-president and general counsel.

“We plan to re-introduce people to the idea that the Monorail is still what it was designed to be – high-speed transit. It’s an existing last-mile high-speed connection from downtown to the arena that any number of sports teams would love to have in their cities.”

Rob Johnson, vice-president of transportation for NHL Seattle, added: “We expect around 25% of fans to use public transit in our first year. The use of public transit can become a unique part of the fan experience and will likely be the quickest and most reliable way to get to and from our games. It’s about a system which will both be efficient and build culture.”

Images: NHL Seattle