SEATTLE -- The Seattle NHL expansion team plans to open its arena in June 2021, the ownership group and developers said at an open house Thursday.
That could allow it to host the NHL Expansion Draft, and perhaps the NHL Draft, before starting play in the 2021-22 NHL season.
"That would be a heck of a way to start a franchise," Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said. "We are fully motivated."
[RELATED: Full coverage of Seattle hockey club expansion]
The Seattle Center Arena is still in its early stages, but Leiweke and Oak View Group construction executive Ken Johnsen led a hard-hat wearing, behind-the-scenes tour of the arena's progress. Formerly known as Key Arena, the Seattle Center Arena project started in December and is targeted to open in June 2021.
"Every day we go in and we're focused on the fans that are coming in here," Johnsen said from the arena floor. "How this building is going to work for them ... every step of the way, the ownership group has said, 'Do it right.' The cost has gone up a little bit, but that group never blinked and has said, 'We've got to do it right.'"
The NHL approved Seattle as its 32nd team on Dec. 8, 2018.
Privately funded by the Oak View Group, the arena will cost close to $930 million.
The roof, deemed a historical landmark, must remain intact, and to increase the hockey seating capacity, everything underneath will be gutted and crews will dig down 15 feet from the existing floor. When completed, the arena will have grown from 411,000 square feet to 750,000.
That will allow for a seating capacity of 17,300 for hockey and requires the removal of 500,000 cubic yards of dirt and soil.
"This is not a renovation," Leiweke said. "We're maintaining an historic roof, but this is a brand-new building under that historic roof. We're proud. We're so proud of this project, the impact it is going to have on Seattle Center."
The project is in its demolition phase. The old seats and suites have been removed and it will take another year of digging before construction crews will begin to build back up.
The tour ended at a new preview center that featured a model suite, historical pictures and artifacts, and an impressive light up model of the what the new arena will look like when finished.
Leiweke and Johnsen excitedly talked about how narrow the space is, which will result in steep seating and an intimate experience for fans. NHL Seattle is confident that the arena will rejuvenate the Seattle Center campus as the only arena in the United States located in a park.
"Most people actually thought this arena was dead," Leiweke said. "If that was the case, then Seattle Center had a significant issue as to what to do. So, from Day One of this project, the common denominator was courage. Courage of the architects to say, 'No, it could work', courage of the engineers, courage of the city to enter a public-private partnership."