BY Art Thiel 09:03PM 10/08/2018

Thiel: Northgate, future home of Seattle hockey

For $70 million in private funds, developers of the arena proposed a three-rink hockey practice facility for sagging Northgate Mall. And it’s not part of the $750 million arena budget.

The proposed Northgate Mall home for Seattle’s NHL team includes a five-story office building (left) and three separately housed ice rinks for team and public use. / NHL Hockey Partners

Shopping malls are a little like newspapers — once-formidable bastions of American culture now hanging on for dear life amid a tsunami of changes in technology and consumer behavior.

But suddenly, Seattle’s venerable Northgate Mall, opened in 1950, is about to gain some economic high ground, rescued by the same people attempting a similar renaissance of KeyArena, a relic of the 1962 Worlds Fair. A 180,000 square foot ice-hockey practice facility, estimated to cost more than $$70 million, will be built there from private funds.

If there’s Congressional Medal of Honor for recycling, Seattle wins. But only if the medal is made from aluminum from a used Boeing 737 rusting in a desert somewhere.

The developers propose to build for their presumptive National Hockey League expansion franchise a three-rink venue on the mall’s grounds that includes the team headquarters, helping transform Seattle, in the words of Tod Leiweke Monday at a press conference in the mall, into “the epicenter of hockey in the Northwest.”

Leiweke is CEO of Seattle Hockey Partners, but in an earlier life held the same job with the Seahawks, when he spearheaded the club’s creation of its Virginia Mason Athletic Center on unused former industrial land along Renton’s Lake Washington shoreline.

The VMAC’s setting and facilities are superior. But it is not a public space, except for about a dozen days in the summer when fans are allowed upon a berm to watch Seahawks training camp.

The Northgate project will be very public, surrounded, in a master plan seeking city approval, by hotels, residences, restaurants, shops and — in complete contradiction to the Seattle Center project — thousands of parking spaces. Additionally, the next leg of the city’s light rail system has a station scheduled to open at Northgate by 2021.

In Leiweke’s vision, he sees the Seattle Ice Centre as the place where his team works, the region’s kids learn the game, and the hockey nation and maybe the world show up for camps and tournaments. And its funding is separate from the budget for the arena project, whose cost is now said to have moved past $750 million.

“We’re investing lots of money in Key Arena,” he said. “We’re acquiring a team. This (training facility) is a major commitment to try to grow the game.

‘There’s simply not another site like this. When we use the term world class, we mean it here. Second to none.”

The Northgate plan was part of the presentation made last week in New York to the NHL expansion committee, which voted 9-0 to recommend Seattle as the NHL’s 32nd franchise ahead of a meeting of owners in December.

“We think this was one of the more compelling parts to the owners,” he said. Mayor Jenny Durkan, who joined Leiweke on the podium, was also in New York, and expressed the scene more vividly:

“Green (the color of envy) didn’t look good on them.”

Durkan, who proudly pointed out that she worked as a teenager at the mall’s J.C. Penney store, cited the primary benefit for the city: It’s in the city.

Oak View Group’s Lance Lopes explains the prposed hockey practice facility at Northgate Mall. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

“There are many areas in the region that would have fought for this — on the east side, south of Seattle, north of Seattle,” she said. “The commitment this ownership group has made to Seattle is phenomenal.

“Not just the spending but how they’re fitting with the community. This will change the face of hockey here and on the West Coast. Our future has to be a city that keeps reinventing itself. There’s a host of ways, but to do it in the urban center is remarkable.”

A key figure in the site selection was Seattle City Council member Debora Juarez, whose district includes Northgate. She was the council member who spent the most time on the KeyArena redevelopment plan by Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, headed by Tim Leiweke, Tod’s brother.

According to a source who declined to be identified, Juarez made it plain to OVG where she wanted the practice facility: “She said you might be able to build it cheaper in Tukwila or Shoreline. But this is going to be in Seattle.”

Within Seattle, Simon Property Group, owner of Northgate Mall and the largest shopping-mall operator in the U.S., was open to a breakthrough idea to help save another enterprise sagging in the face of competition from online-retailing behemoth Amazon.

Juarez helped put OVG together with Simon, which in March proposed to the city a major teardown, followed by building a hotel and 1,200 housing units ahead of the arrival of light rail upon the 55-acre site.

The hockey plan came in late and low, but was sufficiently innovative to persuade Simon to seek a change unlike any among its properties.

“Timing,” said Simon Malls CEO Michael McCarty Monday, “is everything . . . We will have a premier destination to work, shop, live, play, study (North Seattle Community College is just west across I-5) and now to skate.”

Juarez said, “Northgate was one of the first malls to be built in the post-war U.S. We were cutting edge then, we’re cutting edge now.”

Then came the question: Is there room in this project for an NBA practice facility if needed?

Lance Lopes offered a qualified yes.

OVG’s director of special projects who previously worked with Tod Leiweke developing the VMAC, Lopes was on hand to explain the video/slide presentation. He said that the five-story building proposed on the site’s north end would have two phases. The first phase includes the first two floors that would house team offices and would be ready for the scheduled 2020 opening, then a second phase of three stories that could include a floor/gym dedicated to NBA needs.

“We talked about what could be,” Lopes said. “We did an exercise to see whether we could facilitate an NBA practice facility, and the answer is yes.”

If that sounds a little vague, so is the future of the NBA in Seattle. An ESPN story last week on Seattle’s chances reaffirmed that expansion likely will not be on the table for years, and relocation is equally unlikely. Further, it suggested that arenas that host both winter sports are becoming less attractive financially to NBA owners, who prefer hoops-only, such as the new $1 billion arena in San Francisco for NBA champion Golden State. Naturally, Tim Leiweke disputed that contention.

Regardless of the speculation about something at least eight years away,  it’s clear that in Seattle for the foreseeable, it’s all about the puck, because private interests have removed nearly all the risk for politicians.

Check out this statement from Durkan Monday:

“We believe that a professional sport is good for the long-term economic and social life of the city, and we know we need to re-create Seattle Center for the next generation of kids, as it was when I was a kid in Seattle.”

Imagine what might have happened in 2008, when the Sonics were in peril, if Mayor Greg Nickels and the members of city council, some of whom remain, had expressed the same  conviction.


  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    “Northgate was one of the first malls to be built in the post-war U.S” . Northgate is actually THE first shopping mall in the entire United States ( my auto correct just changed that to ‘Untied States’ , talk about a Freudian slip ) . My sister was born at the old hospital that used to be there back in the 50’s . And the only thing Northgate has to do with Seattle is the fact that’s where the traffic jam from hell begins on southbound I-5 into town every afternoon ; it certainly isn’t in city limits ..

    Not a hockey fan , but it’s cool this appears to be happening . As far as the NBA , that exhibition game at Key Arena the other night should’a sent a message . In the meanwhile , I’ll just keep on smiling every time coach Hopkins lands another 4 or 5 star recruit over at Montlake !

    • art thiel

      Regarding the NBA, the owners know the marketplace. They also know that coming back, they’ll be the sixth big-time sports ticket in town. That will be a bigger message to them.

      • Alan Harrison

        And unlike the Sounders, they won’t have a sweet deal as a second team in a stadium that happens to be managed by an owner. The NBA would rather be the biggest game in town in Sacto, Orlando, OKC, and San Antonio than be the #2 (or lower) team in Seattle, St. Louis, Kansas City, or Cincinnati, all of which are markets that had their franchise skedaddle on them. My gut (which is never right) says this would be a move, not an expansion, and that places that don’t have the infrastructure (read: money) will be the first to leverage a move to Seattle for a free stadium (like Detroit, which has so few fans coming, they’re about to paint their seats black so no one will notice that it’s empty).

    • Howard Wells

      Northgate (us old timers never had to add the word mall to explain where we were going, right?) was the catalyst for the integration of north Seattle into the city. Dismissing it as you do does all of us old timers a disservice. I am glad to see it evolve into something more vibrant with the transit hub. It is currently a moribund place.

      • art thiel

        Good point, Howard. Although with coolness comes crowds. Beware.

      • Theyfinallyfiredcable

        Howard , thanks for the info – it does indeed have a Seattle mailing address . I looked in the Seattle Clerks website and it does indeed show Northgate . It also says that neighborhood maps aren’t necessarily legal boundaries for the city . That said , I’ve never thought of Northgate as part of Seattle , and it certainly does not “dismiss” anything . I live in Everett – I hardly dismiss it because it’s not part of Seattle .

    • Alan Harrison

      Northgate is in the city limits, just to clear up some ignorance on the matter. It’s as much a part of Seattle as Montlake, Sand Point, Queen Anne, Ballard, Magnolia, Alki, or Down-freakin’-town. It’s going to be a natural hub when the light rail begins running in 2 and a half years (the hole is already finished, so this is just about construction now). Creating another downtown on the North Side makes a ton of sense with so much infrastructure already there. It also sets up quite the competition between Kent and Everett for the AHL team (one hopes), with the loser getting the WHL team (one thinks).

  • Husky73

    This announcement was made on the same day that JC Penney announced that they were closing shop at Northgate Mall. For everything, turn turn turn, there is a season. Before I leave this planet, I hope for three great inventions— easy tattoo removal (wax on, wax off); a liquid that dissolves plastic in the oceans without harming coral or marine life; and repurposing thousands of former shopping malls into affordable housing and housing for the homeless. I also wish for the Mariners to be in the World Series, but I fear I ask too much.

  • Michael Ward Johnson

    Aluminum doesn’t rust, just sayin’…

  • Kirkland

    Impressive design, but if the goal is to attract free agents or develop grassroots hockey, Northgate will be an unmitigated disaster.

    Virtually all NHL players live in the suburbs; the New York Rangers live in Westchester County and not Manhattan, for example. They and their spouses like having short, uncomplicated commutes to the practice rink, and then quickly getting home so they can handle family routines. With a Northgate practice rink, the players would likely set up stakes in Lynnwood, Magnolia, maybe even Lake Forest Park and the northern Eastside. That would mean horrific traffic via I-5, 520, and Lake City Drive; very tough sell. Traffic for games is one thing, traffic for daily practices is a non-starter. For a Northgate rink, ownership will really have to push hard on no income taxes in Washington state to balance out the hassle of traffic for free agents.

    As for grassroots hockey, there is already a large ice sports presence in North King/South Snohomish Counties. Highline Ice Arena in Shoreline, Sno-King in Lynnwood/Edmonds and OlympicView in Mountlake Terrace (a rare 100-foot wide rink in North America) are short hops from each other, and host healthy figure skating, youth and recreational hockey programs. Heck, even Granite Curling Club is in Shoreline. A three-rink complex just a couple of miles from Highline on Aurora Avenue is overkill, like adding another Starbucks to a strip mall that already has two. You’re not going to get more youth players in Seattle by increasing that cluster, unless hockey moms are willing to make long commutes to practice.

    If you want to grow the game further, this facility should be in South Seattle or Renton, as the only public ice I know of near there is in Kent. A three-rink building, including one where fans can watch practices, in an area with no ice sports access will help grow new fans and be a new source of youth hockey players and figure skaters. The spread of NHL teams in warm-weather cities has produced quality players from places like Dallas, South Florida, California, and even Phoenix (superstar Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs grew up and learned hockey in Arizona). More rinks further away from North Seattle will increase the fan base and diversify the youth player pool.

    Unfortunately, this looks like another case where Oak View and the politicians, especially Juarez, want to put hockey where they want it, not where it will benefit the most people in and around Seattle. And I thought I couldn’t hate these guys even more than I did.

    • You realize no matter where they put it traffic is an issue. Sounds like you’re pissed because its not where you want it.

      • Kirkland

        Damn straight I’m pissed. Traffic will he much easier for the players anywhere else in Seattle or the suburbs. Even it were in Bellevue, there’s an easier drive to their likely Eastside homes than in choked Northgate and surrounding burbs. And still they’re shoving less accessible locations down our throats, like they did with Seattle Center over SoDo.

        • you realize it has to be in city limits per the agreement with the city?

          • Kirkland

            Then put it in South Seattle. No rinks there, like I said, and with its more diverse socioeconomic and racial population, that will help grow the game even more. The NHL has been pushing its “Hockey Is for Everyone” program by starting grassroots programs in non-Caucasian or economically disadvantaged areas, like the Rangers’ “Hockey in Harlem” and the Capitals and Flyers putting rinks in black neighborhoods, and it’s producing a more diverse player pool in the youth grade ranks. North Seattle has enough rinks already.

            And after Tim Leiwicke made that statement dismissing the molestation charges forcing Ed Murray’s resignation as “unforunate for those involved”, I don’t give a crap about any OVG or the city agreement. Any legal document, and the team themselves, can burn in hell as far as I’m concerned.

          • SalishSea8

            Sounds more like you have an agenda driven diatribe more then trying to look at things objectively. Wish you the best at bidding to be owner for the next Franchise.

          • Kirkland

            I will never be objective about this. Anybody who buys a ticket is enabling vindictive politicians and a child molester.

            I’ve wanted a team here for three decades. But if this ownership gets approved, I am done with the NHL . And the Sounders, since Adeian Hanauer debuted himself by joining these cretins.

            And good luck in being a decent human being, Salish.

          • SalishSea8

            You are trying to tie together things that definitely set up a straw man argument. This is not the city of Seattle paying or King County is the ownership group paying for the practice facility. You can feel free to out bid them. By the way if you drop the Sounders …you should drop the Seahawks and Mariners too. They all pushed for the Key arena deal.
            You better start calling everyone a rotten human being for now on. I am sorry your world is falling apart around you. I really wish you the best.

        • Joe_Fan

          Northgate is the “suburbs”.

        • Husky73

          The millionaire players will find a way. They’ll cope, and be fine. Northgate it is and shall be.

          • Kirkland

            And a brilliant opportunity gets thdr.own away by myopic Seattle politicians. Incredibly furious right now.

          • Husky73

            Furious about an ice arena in Northgate? People are slaughtering giraffes and elephants in Africa. Nuclear waste at Hanford is unstable and could be leaching into the Columbia River. Our government put children in cages. A hurricane just wiped out a good portion of the Florida panhandle, and in response our President (who “fell in love” with the world’s most notorious thug) met with Kanye West. There’s plenty to be furious about. Ice skating in Northgate isn’t one of them.

          • Kirkland

            And the beyond stupid Key Arena over choice. And yes, I’m furious about everything else in the world, which is why I was looking at forward to one of my favorite sports coming finally to Seattle. As a bipolar person, I badly need any sort of outlet for happiness. .But that charlatan Leiwicke and the rest of the Seattle power brokers took ruined that for me, and as a non-Seattle resident who cannot attend public meetings because of work and whose emails will get ignored because they don’t read emails, I have no voice in the process. That’s not how to win hearts and minds.

          • Husky73

            Peace be with you.

  • The Windhorst article fails to point out that while NBA would be the last in, the current NHL owners would also be the NBA owners. Also, a new owner would not have to spend a billion dollars on a new arena. We all know the public is not going to finance an arena in Seattle. TL has basically said over and over that 2025 is the realistic goal for NBA.