By Andy Eide
SEATTLE – While there is already a hole in the ground and construction at Northgate Mall, NHL Seattle was on the scene Thursday to officially break ground on its new training facility.
The NHL Seattle Ice Centre will be a 180,000 square foot project, located on the east side of the mall where the Macy’s Department Store had been, and will serve as a practice space for the NHL club as well as house its staff.
It will feature three sheets of ice, state-of-the-art locker rooms, a community theater and conference rooms, a park on the south end connected to rest of the Northgate development, a Virginia Mason medical clinic, and a bar that looks over the ice.
It is slated to be finished and opened in the summer of 2021, in time for the first NHL Seattle practices to occur.
“I say welcome to our home,” NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said. “Its home for our team, it will be home to our staff, it will be home to Virginia Mason. We will welcome our players in about 18 months. We will grow the game, we will celebrate the game, all in a completely redeveloped and envisioned Northgate.”
The $70 million, privately funded, project will be the anchor tenant of Simon Property Group’s redevelopment efforts in a new mixed-used development complex at Northgate. The new development will include housing, retail, and a new light rail station.
Leiweke was joined at the podium Thursday by dignitaries from Simon and Virginia Mason along with elected officials such as Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Councilwomen Debora Juarez.
While the facility will be a practice arena for NHL players, and fans will be able to watch workouts and scrimmages, the other two sheets will be available to the public in an effort to grow the sport.
“This whole project has really been developed to serve,” Leiweke said. “And we start on that by saying we want to serve our players. We want to inspire players we’re hoping to recruit. We want to retain players and we want word to get out around the NHL that this, Seattle, is the place to play.
“We want to serve the hockey community. We are deeply committed to growing the game here in Seattle. From beginners to elites to everyone in between. We want to serve the figure skating community and the curling community.”
The key to the sport’s growth is youth hockey.
It’s something that youth hockey organizations like Sno-King are already bracing for as ice time, or the lack of, has been a hindrance to larger numbers of kids playing hockey. With two-plus sheets of ice being added to the mix at Northgate, that should allow for more skaters to take part.
“We’re hoping for about 1,500 youth skaters in our first year and we hope for that to grow annually,” NHL Seattle’s Director of Youth and Community Development, Kyle Boyd said Thursday. “We’re hoping for about 500 a year after that. Having the two sheets is really going to help move people through.”
Northgate will be the only sheets of ice within the city limits of Seattle. There are public rinks on the Eastside as well as North and South of the city.
The hope is that having rinks within the city limits will make hockey, and skating, more accessible to a diverse group of kids.
“I think the distance is one of the barriers,” Boyd said. ‘I think there are many barriers to entry in the game. I think in terms of the number of kids playing in and around Seattle, we have the number at about 3000 in the greater Seattle area. But a lot of them do reside north of Seattle in the Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood area, Everett, the Eastside and south. We think that having rinks available will really make the game more accessible to kids living in Seattle.
“Speaking to the hockey is for everyone motto of the NHL we want to make sure that our Seattle youth hockey population is diverse and representative of the city… So, that’s something that we’re working on and want to make happen and available to all kids of all backgrounds.”
After the remarks from the podium, pictures with shovels were taken, kids and NHL Seattle staff played street hockey, as one of NHL Seattle’s major developments was officially underway.
“When this thing is done, anyone who is here, the first round at the overlook bar is on me,” Mayor Durkan said to applause.