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Seattle’s KeyArena, Where the Roof Now Floats

Sometimes, marvels of large-scale construction fill interested onlookers with wonder and amazement.

Consider the pyramids of Giza, or the Pantheon in Rome. Or, say, the KeyArena in Seattle.

Crews are working to expand the size of the arena, which the city built for the 1962 World’s Fair. The roof of the KeyArena weighs 44 million pounds, and it was built when the arena was originally erected more than a half-century ago.

While crews excavate the arena area to expand the seating, this 44-million-pound roof is being supported by a reinforcement structure and 72 steel columns. Those steel columns are temporary, according to KIRO-TV in Seattle.

The construction crew has severed the concrete girders and buttresses that had been supporting the arena’s roof, while excavation beneath continues. This rare occurrence is called the “floating phase” of the massive construction project.

This renovated arena will serve as a home for Seattle’s new professional hockey team. The NHL expansion, which does not yet have a publicly-announced name, will begin playing in the 2021-2022 season.

Over the course of last year, construction crews dug out more than a half-million cubic yards of dirt. That excavation continues through February of 2020.

Through the rest of 2020, most of the work will be focused on building up. Teams will build steel framing for the arena’s walls.

The idea of preserving the original 1962 roof was a central part of the renovation design ever since the initial announcement of the project. The preservation of that historic roof took a great deal of planning.

KIRO’s reporters interviewed Ken Johnsen of Oak View Group, the development company that is running the arena’s redevelopment. Johnsen said, “To me it’s a lot like a Star Wars hovercraft. It’s just sitting there hovering and eventually it will land on the arena.”