NHL Seattle to spend $7M on Monorail upgrades and offer transit incentives to get fans to new arena

An artist rendering of the Seattle Center Monorail, with NHL Seattle branding, as it passes the Museum of Pop Culture toward its Seattle Center station. (NHL Seattle Image)

The hype around hockey in Seattle has the potential to turn into heartache for those who get stuck in traffic in the congested corridors that feed the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood where a revamped arena is being constructed. Could the 58-year-old Monorail provide relief?

NHL Seattle announced Tuesday that it is teaming with SMS, the company that operates the Seattle Center Monorail, the elevated mass transit system that shuttles people on 90-second rides between downtown’s Westlake Center and Seattle Center where the arena is located.

NHL Seattle also announced that all season tickets and single game tickets will include fully subsidized public transit, via ORCA, to the future team’s home games. That makes NHL Seattle the first Seattle-based sports franchise and just the third professional sports organization in the U.S. to offer fully subsidized public transit as a benefit for fans.

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Opened in 1962 for the World’s Fair in Seattle, the Monorail carries 2 million passengers annually. NHL Seattle plans to make a capital investment of up to $7 million for upgrades to Westlake Station including improved platforms, modernized ticketing and additional elevator access, the group said in a news release.

“We respect the history of the Monorail and want to remind people of its original intent,” Tod Leiweke, CEO of NHL Seattle, said in a statement. “I couldn’t be prouder to align with a company that shares our values and ambitions. By offering embedded public transit we are making the right decision for our fans and for the city.”

That vision echoes what his brother Tim Leiweke, CEO of arena redeveloper Oak View Group, has previously said.

“I’m big on the Monorail,” Tim Leiweke said in 2017. “I look at it and go, imagine what we could do if we activate it with technology and upgrade it.”

An artist rendering of a revamped Monorail station at Westlake Center. (NHL Seattle Image)

Seattle and the neighborhoods around KeyArena have changed considerably since the NBA’s SuperSonics left town in 2008. Nearby South Lake Union is a booming tech hub that is home to Amazon and large outposts from Google, Facebook, Apple and others.

“We expect around 25 percent of fans to use public transit in our first year,” said Rob Johnson, VP of Transportation for NHL Seattle. “The use of public transit can become a unique part of the fan experience and will likely be the quickest and most reliable way to get to and from our games. Our data shows that from Westlake Center fans can transfer from light rail to Monorail and be at the arena in as little as 6 minutes.”

The Seattle Center Monorail on its route through the Belltown neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Whether fans arrive by Monorail, Uber, Lyft, bus, light rail, their own cars, bikes or foot power, Tim Leiweke has been ready to imagine any sort of scenario that will get people to the new arena for hockey and other events. His vision for one mode of transport probably sounds about as far-fetched to Seattleites as an elevated Monorail did back in the early ’60s.

“I know this is going to sound bizarre, but we are absolutely convinced that drones will have an impact on how people get to the arena in the future,” he said two years ago. “We are thinking through drone transportation and how we would ultimately have areas where people can literally be dropped off 10 years from now with drones. There are drones now that can carry 265 pounds so we are very focused on that.”

Seattle’s yet-to-be-named NHL hockey team is expected to take the ice for its inaugural season in 2021. The $930-million arena redevelopment project is scheduled to be completed next summer.

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