Friday’s traditional ‘topping out’ ceremony at Climate Pledge Arena celebrates steel-framing construction as complete—and gives Seattleites a glimpse of games and concerts to come.
By Bob Condor
Climate Pledge Arena is still under construction but that didn’t stop the venue’s first group of “fans” from taking their seats Friday. Those fans were socially distanced men and women from the construction crew sitting on concrete risers that will soon enough support rows of seats for Kraken games, Storm games and world-class musical acts.
The workers were taking a mid-day break to join in the traditional “topping out” ceremony that marks the final steel beam being secured into place. It indicates the steel-framing structural phase of a project is complete. In the case of Climate Pledge Arena, the final beam was fastened to the rigging grid that now sits beneath the iconic landmark roof, preserved from the original 1962 World’s Fair building. The steel in the rigging grid will help support 200,000 pounds of equipment and staging elements, fitting the needs of pretty much any type on concert tour show.
“It is super-exciting to all of you up in the stands,” said Greg Huber, project executive for Mortenson, the arena’s construction looking out from the temporary stage on the arena’s dirt floor five-plus stories below ground. “You should all gives yourselves a round of applause.”
The workers most certainly did so, responding with resounding cheers. Huber and other speakers said every one of the 2,500 workers who have stepped foot on the Seattle Center site—currently at 800-plus daily workers—should be proud of what they are gifting the community with this brand-new arena coming to life under the historic roof.
“You are building it for new audiences for years and decades to come,” said Robert Nellams, director of Seattle Center. You guys are amazing. I am blown away by the light you are creating this time of darkness.”
“Your work will always be part of the fan experience for every game and event,” said Steve Mattson, Climate Pledge Arena general manager and senior vice president for Oak View Group. I will always remember those efforts. Thank you and congratulations.”
The traditional “topping out” ceremony on construction sites has centuries-old history at its deepest roots. The beam is typically painted and contrasting-ink permanent markers are made available for workers to sign their names. In a futuristic touch, the names of the 2,500 who have worked here was projected on a loading dock wall to provide a dramatic backdrop for selfies and for the crew to persuse when picked up burrito lunches.
Ken Johnsen, construction executive for Oak View Group and the Kraken, explained to the crowd that a tree is affixed to the final beam as symbols. For First Nations people, it is used to show no structure is taller [in spirit] than the trees. Scandinavian culture points to the affixed tree as a signal to “let the celebration begin.”
“Often in a celebration one might raise a glass,” said Johnsen. “Well, we can one better by raising a tree [in this case a western red cedar sapling].”
Workers were clearly excited and know the custom. Any number of them took selfies with the tree with their signed names in the background. Some work buddies snapped shots around the beam and tree in safety protocol circles with each person at least six feet from one another. The crew cheered from all corners of the construction site when the beam and try will lifted up by the crane operator and an American flag unfurled downward as the final piece of steel was lifted so two ironworkers could put it into place. The noise grew as the beam fit into place on the rigging grid and the tree stood tall and straight.
“Those workers sitting at safe distances in what will be the arena’s stands, that was fun to see,” said Johnsen as the festivities wound down. “Like I said up on stage, all we needed is a sheet of ice and it would feel like a hockey game.”