Half a century after its construction, the Space Needle is about to undergo its biggest renovation yet.
The big changes: Flooring in the restaurant will be replaced with glass, giving diners a view of Seattle Center 500 feet below; the observation deck will be retooled, its outside, cage-like enclosure replaced entirely with glass panels; and another set of elevators will be added.
With the new version of the Space Needle, said CEO Ron Sevart, “We’re appealing to a wider range of people.”
Sevart said he used to think of the Space Needle as timeless, but in surveys conducted over the past few years, guests reported they felt the interior was “tired” and “dated.” The Space Age piece of architecture, which has become a symbol of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, turned 55 this year.
The entire renovation will probably take years, but the revamped restaurant and observation deck are expected to be completed by summer next year. The more-than-$100-million renovation will be funded entirely by the Wright family, which owns the Needle.
The project will also be the largest investment made in the structure since it was built — in part by the Wrights — for $4.5 million, or $36.7 million in today’s dollars.
“I believe we’ll look back at this as a pivotal moment in the history of the Space Needle,” said Space Needle Chairman Jeff Wright. “This project both connects us back to our roots, to the vision that my father and his partners had when they built the Space Needle in 1962, and guides us forward into the future for generations to enjoy.”
Starting in September, work on the observation deck will be done in sections, like slices of a pie, moving counterclockwise one-sixth of the saucer at a time, sparing the deck from a complete shutdown.
Right now, Sevart says, there are things that obscure the great views of Seattle and beyond: the observation-deck “cage,” interior walls, thick doors and window supports. Those will be replaced with glass panels and floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
“It’s about getting out of the way of the view,” Sevart said. “When the [elevator] door opens, angels need to sing.”
The new observation-deck panels will be tilted outward, so visitors can sit on benches and “lean back into the sky,” said Karen Olson, the Space Needle’s chief marketing officer.
“We are going glass ga-ga,” she said.
The restaurant will close from September 2017 to late May 2018 for the renovation. Besides the new glass floor, the restaurant’s motor, which rotates the eatery, will also be replaced — and the menu will get an overhaul.
Prices for admission and at the restaurant might change after construction, but the company hasn’t yet decided, Olson said. In the end, the Space Needle’s restaurant will be the first rotating, glass-floor restaurant in the world, according to the company.
The plot of land for the Needle was bought in 1961, just 13 months away from the planned attraction’s debut at the Seattle World’s Fair. In the dash that followed, some original ideas, like double-stacked elevators, had to be scrapped.
“There were a lot of things the architect could dream about,” said Gary Noble Curtis, one of the original structural engineers who worked on the Needle’s construction. “If they could’ve done it, they would’ve.”
Curtis, now 80, was brought on as an adviser for the current renovation.
When he first worked on the structure, he was just a few years out of college and part of a California firm that got the Space Needle job.
He was one member of the team of several hundred engineers, architects and construction workers who spent 400 days building the almost 10,000-ton, 605-foot-tall Space Needle in 1962.
Though Curtis said he “poured his soul” into the Space Needle 55 years ago, it’s time for a change.
“Let’s get this thing ready for the next fifty years,” Curtis said.