Did you feel that?
It’s the collective sigh of relief from Oak View Group, NHL Seattle and hockey fans in the Pacific Northwest after nobody filed a written appeal of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed KeyArena rebuild.
With the deadline for appeals now in the rearview mirror, the prospect of a National Hockey League team playing at Seattle Center took a giant leap towards reality Thursday.
The focus now shifts to what should be two mostly procedural votes by members of the city council, before the Seattle Hockey Partners take a cross-country trip to make their best sales pitch to the National Hockey League. All three are expected to happen in a 19-day span.
Why is This Important?
An EIS appeal would’ve been a significant threat to David Bonderman, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Tim & Tod Leiweke’s goal of having a professional hockey team playing for Seattle in October of 2020.
The city said any appeal to the environmental review of the KeyArena project would have delayed construction by at least two or three months.
If someone did file an appeal, then it would be reviewed to determine whether there was any merit to it. Should that appeal be deemed pointless, then it would be dismissed in that two or three month window. If there was some worthiness to the appeal, then the delay would’ve been longer — potentially pushing Seattle hockey back to 2021.
As I mentioned before: OVG have a “Plan B” and “Plan C” in this process. A lengthy environmental appeal process is one of the things that would’ve triggered Tim Leiweke’s “Plan C” of waiting until 2021-22.
With no appeal coming in, any talk of construction delays now shifts from “months” to “maybe a couple of days” — at least for the time being.
So What Happens Now?
The $700 million plan to gut, expand and rebuild The Seattle City Council’s Select Committee on Arenas unanimously approved the key paperwork for The Key in a vote Friday, September 14th.
The full council followed suit on Monday, September 24th by unanimously approving those documents in the agreement between OVG and the city.
Eight days after that full council vote: Bonderman, Bruckheimer, the Leiwekes and Mayor Jenny Durkan will make a presentation to the Executive Committee of the NHL’s Board of Governors in New York City.
In a recent appearance on Sports Radio KJR, Tod Leiweke said of that day:
“I’ve never prepared like this for a presentation or meeting, and I’ve had a few in my career. This is an important moment because we owe it to the city to do our best. There is so much excitement, and those 32,000 depositers absolutely deserve us getting up there that day and giving it everything we’ve got.”
Who Will Leiweke & Co. Present To?
The executive committee is made up of ten total people: nine members and a chairman.
Here are the members of the committee, according to the most recent membership update I could find.
- Jeremy Jacobs (Chairman) — Boston Bruins
- Mark Chipman — Winnipeg Jets
- Murray Edwards — Calgary Flames
- Craig Leipold — Minnesota Wild
- Ted Leonsis — Washington Capitals
- Geoff Molson — Montreal Canadiens
- Henry Samueli — Anaheim Ducks
- Larry Tanenbaum — Toronto Maple Leafs
- Jeff Vinik — Tampa Bay Lightning
- Rocky Wirtz — Chicago Blackhawks
Each of those men are either the owner, or own the controlling stake in their respective NHL franchises.
Here is where the Leiwekes’ connections come in again. Obviously, Tod worked with Vinik while he was in Tampa Bay. Tim overlapped with Larry Tanenbaum during his days with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. Leipold bought the Wild a few years after Tod Leiweke left Minnesota.
Jacobs is the key player here. He’s viewed as a powerful and influential person in the hockey world. In addition to being the Bruins’ owner, Jacobs also is the chairman of the entire Board of Governors. Interestingly enough: OVG has a concessions agreement in place with a company known as Delaware North. Jacobs owns Delaware North.
Will They Get Approved For A Team Then?
At the end of Seattle’s day in the spotlight, the committee will report back to the full board on the presentation, any questions that were answered/remain unanswered, etc. Then the board will decide whether to vote on expansion at that time, or to push that back to its next meeting. (Edit: the latter is exactly what happened)
Based on the recent comments from NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, the latter is what will happen. Daly said there are still things Seattle needed to iron out.
“There continues to be some open issues on the application we still have to work through, so we’re certainly not in a position where the Board will be taking any action vis-a-vis the Seattle application. I’m sure we’ll report to the Board on the executive committee meeting, we’ll report to the Board on the status of the application process, but certainly nothing imminent on a vote.”
That would push things back to the next board meeting, which will be in December. Here’s what Daly said when reporters asked if a December vote is possible.
“It’s possible. Again, we haven’t set a timeline and so it will really depend on whether things fall into place and everything gets done. We’re not in any rush, as [NHL Commissioner] Gary [Bettman] has said numerous times. It’s more their timeline than our timeline. If everything gets done and everything is teed up, then it’s possible we could have a vote, but there really is no rush because this team is not playing any time soon if it’s granted a franchise.”
Daly and NHL Commissioner Bettman have long held that there is no specific timeline in place to approve a possible expansion, and downplayed any need to get it done quickly.
Yet that flies in the face of the message from OVG & NHL Seattle. They each have maintained that everything will be finished and ready to go by October of 2020, but with each day that passes that window of time shrinks a little smaller — particularly with regards to the arena.
The KeyArena rebuild has not started. It could be the last and greatest question the NHL would have of the Seattle Hockey Partners.
Workers cannot break ground or begin construction at Seattle Center until the league approves a Seattle expansion team. That’s according to the final transaction and integration documents approved by the city and OVG.
The condition before development should not come as a surprise. Tim Leiweke said that was the case to my colleague Patrick Quinn at the end of July.
What is notable about the transaction and integration documents is that the city does specify it must be the Board of Governors approving a team — not just an informal ‘wink-wink, nudge-nudge’ from the league or a committee.
But based on Daly’s recent remarks, it appears the league does have concerns that the arena rebuild has not started.
“Certainly that’s part of it, and it might be the driving force in terms of when they’d be in a position to open.”
Now to be fair: those comments from Daly came a few days before the EIS appeal deadline. The league (much like OVG & co.) likely was monitoring it to see if Seattle had to let an appeal process play out, since it could’ve hampered the arena project.
Back to the issue at hand, though: the league’s concern over the time crunch in getting the arena done.
Can It Be Done In Less Time?
The final EIS states that the OVG proposal would get the rebuild done in time, but only with day-and-night construction.
Now that we know work can’t begin until (likely) December at the earliest, we can revisit a recent exercise — prospective construction timelines.
For those who are not familiar: I constructed three theoretical timelines based on the earliest possible groundbreaking date (Oct. 6, 2018 — the day after the final event at KeyArena) and used three different deadlines based on real NHL schedules to construct some rough time frames. I then compared those rough windows to the time it took to build every single arena that will be used in the NHL during the 2018-19 season.
Based on our exercise in August, the speed of the KeyArena rebuild would’ve ranked among the top 25-34% of NHL arenas (depending on the date of opening).
Those numbers are not alarming, and somewhat comforting in the sense that each of the timelines had been accomplished before (and done several times).
But now we need to adjust them with a December start date, and see how things shake out.
The tricky thing is: we don’t know the dates of those December Board of Governors meetings. The only true break in the league schedule is the traditional Christmas break (Dec. 24-26th).
So we’ll pick out a date to base our timelines on (if you don’t like it, you can tweak them accordingly and run your own projection). I’m going to pick December 5th — it’s a weekday in the first week of the month.
Here’s how things play out with that in mind.
Oh. That’s much less encouraging.
On the bright side: these timelines have been done before. However: in three of the four cases (Arizona, Ottawa, St. Louis), those cities already had teams playing there before they broke ground. Winnipeg was the lone exception, and they built an arena a few years before they knew the NHL would return in the form of relocation.
That’s right — no NHL expansion team in at least the past 27 years has built an arena before their debut season in this short of a timeframe.
These shorter theoretical schedules also create even less room for potential construction delays — which is something we should keep in the back of our minds moving forward.
I have to obviously stress that no two construction projects are exactly alike, and again — these are just projected schedules. But these numbers paint a more concerning picture than our first exercise.
However — Populous, the general contractor who was hired to do the KeyArena rebuild, has experience in this area.
They built one of the three arenas that was completed faster than each of our three rough arena timelines: Gila River Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes. Interestingly enough: the ‘Yotes rink was operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) — while Tim Leiweke was in charge of it.
Populous also worked on eight other current NHL arenas, including the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota when Tod Leiweke was running the show in St. Paul.
Connections are a funny thing aren’t they?
So while the KeyArena project will be the fastest hockey arena construction either Leiweke has overseen, they brought in a contractor they’re each familiar with and one that is familiar with this type of timeline. That has to inspire some confidence — both among hopeful fans, and in league offices.
Yet ultimately it all comes down to the sales pitch the Seattle Hockey Partners will make to the league. It helps that there will be some familiar faces in the room. It also is a positive that much of their paperwork with the city should be done by October 2nd.
But nothing will be a bigger relief to NHL Seattle than avoiding an EIS appeal. They dodged months of delays. Now the fun part of expansion — seriously thinking about players, GMs, team names, etc. — is one big step closer. It’ll be even more real in the next three weeks.
If you have any questions or feedback: leave a comment, send me an email at the address on the bottom of the page or hit me up on Twitter (@ScottMalone91).