On October 19, 2021, Seattle music fans get a sneak peek at the new Climate Pledge Arena with a benefit concert featuring two bands with strong Seattle ties, Foo Fighters and Death Cab for Cutie. The concert is not publicly promoted and invitations are tendered primarily to arena partners, contractors, and members of the bands' fan clubs. Three days later, on October 22, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will mark the arena's official opening, followed by an evening concert by the band Coldplay. The 17,400-seat arena, constructed at a cost of $1.2 billion, replaces the out-of-date KeyArena, a venue built for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, although certain architectural elements of the historic arena are retained.
Hitting the Right Note
Although October 22, 2021, was promoted as the official opening date of Climate Pledge Arena (CPA), local music fans previewed the new 740,000-square-foot arena three days earlier when Foo Fighters and Death Cab for Cutie played a sold-out benefit concert on October 19. There was no big public announcement. Fans of Death Cab for Cutie received an email alerting them to the concert, and the online ticketing agency Ticketmaster quietly posted concert details on the morning of September 30 with tickets going on sale that day at noon. Called "A New Way Home," the benefit concert helped support the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Real Rent Duwamish, and One Roof Foundation.
Both bands have longstanding ties to the Northwest. Foo Fighters, formed in 1994, was founded by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl (b. 1969), who spent a few minutes on stage during the CPA concert reminiscing about the band's early years. The indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie came together in Bellingham in 1997 and has earned eight Grammy nominations.
The double-billing hit the right note with fans. "While arena brass are technically billing Friday's Coldplay concert as the formal grand opening, as far as Seattle is concerned, last night's sold-out show was it, as hometown rock heroes Foo Fighters and Death Cab for Cutie played CPA's first event ... Climate Pledge Arena didn't formally promote the 'exclusive,' semiprivate show ... instead offering tickets to 'our partners' and people involved with its construction ... But fans of the bands could buy tickets using special pass codes" ("Review: Foo Fighters ...").
A few days later, on October 22, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on the arena's south plaza. Businessman David Bonderman (b. 1942), principal owner of the Seattle Kraken hockey franchise, cut the ribbon, surrounded by leaders from Oak View Group, a Los Angeles-based real estate development company and builder of Climate Pledge Arena; Seattle Center; and Amazon, along with state and city officials. At the ceremony, Governor Jay Inslee (b. 1951) congratulated the arena partners for their use of environmentally friendly building practices and materials. "This commitment to sustainability impacts us now and well into the future," Inslee said, "because the future of commercial construction has a critical role to play in reducing the emissions that are harming our communities, our climate, our seas, our forests and the Earth itself" (Madison Park Times).
That evening, the Grammy Award-winning British rock group Coldplay – playing the band's first arena gig in nearly five years – entertained a sold-out crowd during a 90-minute set. On October 23, the first sports event in the new arena pitted the Kraken against the Vancouver Canucks. The Kraken lost, 4-2. Other opening-week events, all held October 24, included a local food and beverage market coordinated by the Seattle Farmers Market Association, a half day of free concerts by four local bands presented by KEXP, and a public open house.
Years in the Making
The redevelopment of the old KeyArena began in 2017 when City of Seattle officials issued a request for proposals. Built in 1962 for the Seattle World's Fair, KeyArena had seen its share of history-making events over the years, from concerts by the Beatles, Pearl Jam, and Elton John to three NBA finals and the 1990 Goodwill Games. But an overhaul of the out-of-date venue was needed before Seattle could acquire an NHL or NBA franchise.
Two proposals were received; Oak View Group (OVG) was selected. One of the project requirements was to preserve elements of the arena's landmark structure, in particular its trademark sloped roof designed by Paul A. Thiry (1904-1993). OVG estimated the cost at $650 million, all of it from private funds, and groundbreaking was held on December 5, 2018.
When the state mandated that businesses shut down temporarily in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Inslee granted an exemption for arena construction "given the fact that the 44-million-pound roof was supported by a temporary scaffolding system. Hundreds of thousands of truckloads of dirt were carried and the old KeyArena was torn down bit-by-bit and replaced. OVG ended up spending $1.2 billion, almost double their original proposal" (Daniels).
A Commitment to Net-zero Carbon Emissions
In June 2020, Amazon announced it had secured arena naming rights, spending an estimated $300 million to $400 million for the honor. The name Climate Pledge Arena was selected to draw attention to Amazon's climate pledge, which asked companies to commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, 10 years ahead of the date set by the Paris climate agreement.
Arena builders implemented a number of innovative technologies and materials to meet this environmental certification. Its "all-electric operations will be powered by 100% renewable electricity -- from on-site solar panels and off-site renewable energy. The stadium will use reclaimed rainwater stored in the ice system, a concept called 'Rain to Rink,' to create the greenest ice in the NHL. The original 44-million-pound roof from the previous KeyArena was reused in the construction – to significantly reduce the embodied carbon of the building. The arena's food program ... will be sourced locally and seasonally to support regional farmers and producers; all viable unused food from events will be donated to local community food programs" ("Seattle's Climate Pledge Arena Makes History").
There are grab-and-go food stands, ticketless and cashier-less technology, and electric vehicle charging stations. Each year, the arena's emissions will be tallied to see if environmental goals were met.
The new arena, just blocks from Amazon headquarters, doubled the footprint of the former KeyArena, with much of the additional footage showing up in the spacious concourses. Fans seem pleased with the new design; arena-goers' comments ranged from more comfortable seats to improved sightlines. In addition to its high-tech and sustainability features, the arena included nine pieces of public art installed on site, and many of the building's interior design elements spotlight the best of the Northwest, incorporating such things as hardwoods, a dramatic wall of ferns, and a model airplane suspended over one of the escalators.