OUTSIDE THE BOX: The Space Needle Club, shown in a rendering, provides views of Seattle’s iconic tower. (Courtesy Oak View Group)

Rockwell Group’s designs for new arena put emphasis on social spaces

The premium experience at the New Arena at Seattle Center will focus largely on grab-and-go concepts in tech-driven club spaces to attract the Generation Z consumer, according to project officials.

Oak View Group, the developer behind the $1 billion transformation of the old KeyArena, on Thursday released initial renderings of suites, clubs and a food hall, all designed by The Rockwell Group, a New York interior design firm. (OVG also owns VenuesNow).

Populous is the architect of record for the project, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2021.

“We’re spending $100 million (alone) on these clubs, thinking outside the box and making the building much more social, interactive and on demand,” said Tim Leiweke, Oak View Group’s co-founder and CEO. “There’s less than 60 suites in the arena. We de-emphasized suites and put a huge emphasis on clubs and social spaces. We built clubs for all. It’s not exclusive to the rich.”

The 2,500 club seats, priced at $285 to $355 a person per game, are sold out and fewer than a dozen suites remain unsold, Leiweke said. In addition, there are fewer than a dozen opera boxes to sell of the 68 designed.

The arena, future home of the NHL Seattle expansion team, includes the Space Needle Club. The upper level destination, with capacity for about 320 people, features a skylight overhead providing views of the Space Needle, the city’s iconic observation tower.

“It’s a fascinating space and one of the coolest places in the entire building,” Leiweke said.

Also on the upper level is the food hall, tentatively named Mount Baker after a snow skiing destination in the Cascade Mountain Range. At 10,576 square feet, it’s the largest space in the arena. The room will feature multiple Seattle food and drink purveyors, said Shawn Sullivan, a partner with The Rockwell Group who grew up in Seattle.

The Symetra Club, the east sideline club, is named for the insurance firm that signed on as the first founding partner. It will showcase Seattle’s rich history as one of the country’s leading craft beer markets. The club design includes a large bar supported by side lounges for a smaller “publike” experience, Sullivan said.

The Symetra Club will showcase Seattle’s rich history as a craft beer market. (Courtesy Oak View Group)

The west sideline club is named for Seattle-based WaFd Bank.

At the event level, about 20 bunker-style suites will make up the Tunnel Club. Those patrons have seats in the lower bowl to watch the game. The hospitality space itself is similar to event-level lounges in other big league arenas where players pass by on their way to the arena floor.

Rockwell Group, which as a firm is working on its first big league arena after working on projects at MetLife Stadium, Hard Rock Stadium and Comerica Park, applied some of the same principles it has used to design theaters and restaurants. Tunnel Club areas have movable glass walls and LED screens to stage a “preshow” prior to the game, Sullivan said. 

“As the games start and players take the ice, we can change the lighting and look into the arrival of the team,” he said. “We can amplify the event with additional production equipment. The glass walls can be converted to an opaque setting so you’re not always in a fish bowl.”

About 20 bunker-style suites will make up the Tunnel Club. (Courtesy Oak View Group)

The 7,200-square-foot Metropolitan Club, the arena restaurant situated midlevel in the facility, will seat about 300, and it has views to the seating bowl.

Overall, the materials and finishes in the premium spaces reflect a city and a region steeped in sustainability. 

Weathered steel, exposed wood beams, furniture made with local timber and custom mosaics inspired by Pendleton and other Pacific Northwest flannel patterns are part of the design theme. The city’s warehouse lofts converted to residential units provided inspiration as well.

“You would definitely walk through here and feel architectural and structural characteristics and techniques from the Northwest vocabulary,” he said.

As a whole, sustainability drove the project, starting with retaining the arena’s original roof, which is protected under landmark status. The building originally opened for the 1962 World’s Fair. As an engineering exercise, it’s been a massive undertaking to keep the roof intact while building a new NHL venue underneath the structure.

“It’s the greatest recycling program in the history of our business because we saved the roof,” Leiweke said. “That was the beginning of the vision for this building.”

For Sullivan the designer, it’s been a monumental challenge but a rewarding one. As a Seattle-area native, he’s thrilled to play a key role in resurrecting the venue.

“I’m passionate about the city and excited to get a team back,” he said. “I went to Sonics games the year they won the NBA title (in 1979),” he said. “My first concert there was Blondie … so it’s great to create new spaces with lots of character that feels like the Pacific Northwest.”