SEATTLE — Hanging in the rafters at Climate Pledge Arena is an oversized hockey jersey adorned with the number 32. That’s because the Seattle Kraken retired that number before their first home game on Oct. 23, 2021.
This is just one of the ways the expansion hockey franchise has chosen to take a different route from other pro sports teams.
The number 32 came to represent the fervor exhibited by the fan base. When the team – the 32nd franchise in the NHL – started accepting deposits for season tickets, they thought 10,000 would be a worthy goal. Instead, 32,000 made commitments for tickets during the initial 24-hour period, which happened to end on March 2, 2018. Yes, the date was 3/2.
Five-plus months into the team’s inaugural season, a home game against the Nashville Predators fell on March 2, 2022. Naturally, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell officially proclaimed the “3/2” date as “Kraken Day,” and despite the team’s seven -game losing streak, fans packed the arena to celebrate. The home team delivered a rousing 4-3 win, the perfect ending for the Kraken’s special day.
One reason for the fans’ devotion to the team is the sustainability of its home venue. It sits where KeyArena once hosted the NBA’s SuperSonics, who left Seattle for Oklahoma City in 2008. All that’s left of that facility is its massive, 44-million-pound roof and the glass that formed the exterior on three sides.
The arena was built for the 1962 World’s Fair that was held in Seattle, so the roof has been an enduring symbol for generations in the city. It certainly would have been less expensive to demolish the roof and start over with a completely new building, but that wouldn’t have been the sustainable approach.
Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, the developers of the arena, estimates the cost of preserving the original roof at about $100 million. “Saving the roof is probably the single greatest decision we made in trying to be sustainable in this building,” he said.
Using an approach he calls “flying the roof in the air,” supports were installed to lift the roof off the ground while the old arena underneath was demolished and a new seating bowl built in its place.
“That was a marvel of engineering, probably the most sophisticated, challenging engineering project I’ve seen in my 40-plus years of building almost two dozen arenas,” says Leiweke, who is the brother of Tod Leiweke, president and CEO of the kraken.
Adds Rob Johnson, the team’s VP of sustainability and transportation: “The steel saved in handling the roof in this manner is equivalent to all of the steel needed to build an entire football stadium.”
Exclusive of the actual construction costs, Leiweke estimates upward of $200 million was spent on designing and planning the new venue to make it not only sustainable but “one of the great arenas of the world.” All told, $1.15 billion was spent creating the new venue.
“Believe me, I wish something would prove us wrong that being carbon-neutral is a priority,” says Leiweke. “Unfortunately, as we saw again from the recent UN report, we’re not wrong. We have to step up and answer this because if we don’t, we are in a terrible position in where we’re going with Planet Earth.”
He hopes “we can affect a new path, with each one of us having to commit. This doesn’t happen with one arena, but this is a part, so let’s do it right.”
“From the beginning, we’ve tried to push the envelope, to set new standards,” said Katie Townsend, the team’s senior VP of marketing and communications. “Climate Pledge Arena is groundbreaking. It is setting a new standard for arenas and large venues when it comes to sustainability. It’s right for our fans and for the market, and I think it’s right for who we are as a franchise.”
While Leiweke’s Oak View Group and architecture firm Populous created the plans to make Climate Pledge Arena utilize the fewest resources and be as energy-efficient as possible, Johnson is responsible for the ongoing efforts. He described the “farms” of solar panels that help power the facility and the 15,000-gallon cistern buried next to the sand that holds rainwater to be recycled. He added that plastic cups, long the staple of sodas and beers at sports facilities, are being phased out and more recyclable materials like metal are now being used.
Asked for his biggest challenge, he quickly says “carbon accounting. It’s a fairly new field so there are lots of opinions about how to account for the (carbon) emissions of a building.”
There are “direct” and “indirect” emissions to be accounted for. The electricity used by the building is a direct emission, while the indirect kind could be the fuel used by fans driving to the arena or the exhaust emissions of the trucks that deliver concession items.
In accounting for the carbon usage of this arena, Johnson used the example of a concert. His staff has to account for the trucks and buses that brought the band and equipment, the plastics and materials used in the merchandise they sell at their stands, the fuel used by fans coming to and from the arena, the energy actually used during the performance , the energy to clean up after the show and the trucks to get the act to its next stop.
At the end of the first year of operations at the arena, “we’ll tally up how many tons of carbon were emitted directly and indirectly. We then buy that number of tons of carbon offsets.” Johnson cites planting trees and restoring watersheds as examples of these offsets.
Leiweke has another goal for Climate Pledge Arena when the first year has ended, when independent auditors will assess its emissions efficiency. “We built this to be the world’s first carbon-neutral arena ever built,” he says. “After a year, we’ll see if it’s true.”
As the architects working for Oak View Group and the Kraken, Populous’ responsibility was “to develop solutions,” says senior principal Geoff Cheong, who served as project designer. “That led to solutions including an all-electric systems design that eliminates natural gas from the building,” as well as the use of solar panels and the recycling of rainwater.
He notes that two “of the less-celebrated sustainable solutions are arguably the most unique.” One was the preservation of 67 London Plane trees that date to the World’s Fair, despite being a few feet away from the massive excavation.
The other solution was reusing the glass panels, which also date to 1962. Those provide natural light both on the concourse and in the seating bowl, reducing the need for artificial light on non-event days.
The premium spaces were designed by Rockwell Group. By positioning some of the lounges and suites behind and under the seating sections, the upper levels are closer to the ice.
One of the most talked about features inside the arena is the 1,600-square-foot Living Wall along the western concourse. Here plants grow from special pods embedded in the wall. They surround video screens that explain the need for conservation and sustainability.
“It is a symbol in which we can inspire the millions of people who go through this building to join us in our commitment toward (being) carbon neutral,” Leiweke says.
Sometimes taking the sustainable approach can result in a better outcome. Johnson notes that the recycled rainwater from the sand’s roof is used in resurfacing the rink’s ice, and its purity makes for an even better surface than what is drawn from the municipal water supply. So far, the arena’s Zambonis – which themselves are electric instead of typical models fueled by gasoline or propane – have applied 100,000 gallons of the recycled water to the ice surface.
“I think it has enhanced the feel and the beauty of the building when you look at the roof, the big Living Wall, when you know that the ice players are skating on came from rainwater,” says Townsend. “It all just adds to the magic of the building.”
A global cause
Typically when a corporation pays for the naming rights of an arena, it names it after itself or one of its brands. America’s second largest company happens to be headquartered a mile east of Climate Pledge Arena, and it went a different route.
“When Amazon purchased the naming rights for Climate Pledge Arena in June 2020, we took a big leap by naming it after a global cause rather than a company,” explains Chris Roe, Amazon’s head of sustainable operations. “Our goal is to make the arena a long-lasting and regular reminder for every one of the urgent need for climate action.”
Leiweke views the creation of the new venue as righting a wrong. He says the market was “starved for the NHL and was wounded by the Sonics leaving town because the arena was inadequate. We solved the problem by creating a world-class arena. I think we’ve made a great argument that the NBA must give Seattle a franchise.”
Always thinking ahead, Leiweke made sure space was allocated for an NBA locker room on the ground floor of the arena.
Winning hearts and minds
Diana Skiles, a retired teacher in the Seattle suburb of Edmonds, never cared for hockey. When the Kraken arrived, everything changed – including how she spends her spare time.
“The rollout of the team to the community, the way they are environmentally conscious, it really won me over,” she says. “I now watch every game.”
She is so inspired by the Kraken that she started knitting a scarf to commemorate their inaugural season. She carefully chose yarns that precisely match the team’s colors and has created a pattern that signifies every goal the team scores.
“I’ve had to go to the store to buy a lot more yarn, because the scarf is now 7 feet long, and growing,” she says.
Usually it takes years for a new team to generate such devotion, but the Kraken’s community outreach and sustainable arena captured the hearts and minds of Seattle before the puck was dropped at their first game.
“This is just the beginning,” says Leiweke. “We are accomplishing our goals one step at a time.”