Seattle’s Space Needle gets a reboot

Seattle’s space-age inspired Space Needle marked a milestone in its $100 million makeover this week, with the unveiling of the first batch of specially-slanted clear glass benches on the outdoor Observation Deck at the 520-foot level.

The benches, dubbed “Skyrisers” are attached to some of the viewing deck’s newly-installed 11-foot tall glass windows and invite visitors to lean back and snap selfies that will make them appear to be floating out over the landscape.

Courtesy Space Needle LLC

Over the past year, while the Observation Deck remained open to the public, construction workers replaced the view-obstructing but structurally-necessary half wall and caging installed when the 605-foot-tall Space Needle was built – in just 400 days – as a centerpiece for the World’s Fair held in Seattle in 1962.

“We needed to update some of the aging mechanical and electrical systems in this 56-year-old building originally designed to look like a flying saucer on a stick,” said Karen Olson, chief marketing officer for Space Needle LLC, “And we figured, while we’re up there, let’s update the experience and expand the view.”

Seattle-based design firm Olson Kundig, the project architect, maintained the landmarked features of the building while significantly opening up the Observation Deck view with 48 floor-to-ceiling glass windows that are each 7 feet wide and 11 feet high.

The group also added direct viewing lines to the outside for everyone who steps off the elevator, a state-of-the art ADA lift that (finally) makes the outdoor deck fully accessible, an indoor café and the newly unveiled inclined glass “Skyrisers” that will make a trip to the top of the Space Needle super selfie-worthy.

While ten glass benches were unveiled this week in time for Memorial Day visitors, Space Needle officials say all 24 of the Observation Deck’s planned Skyrisers should be installed by the end of June.

Next phase: World’s first rotating glass floor

When the Space Needle opened at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, it featured a rotating restaurant on the 500-foot level, just below the Observation Deck, that operated on turntable powered first by a 1 horsepower and, later, a 1.5 horsepower motor. (While novel, it wasn’t the world’s first rotating restaurant. That honor goes to a restaurant that operated in the Ala Moana shopping mall in Hawaii.)

Over the years there have been three different restaurant concepts in the rotating space and, when the current makeover is completed, there will be a fourth.

In the meantime, construction workers have built a grand, open circular staircase to connect the two decks and replaced the original rotating floor on the lower-deck with a 37-ton glass floor that is being billed as the world’s only rotating glass floor (in a building open to visitors).

Inspired by the (non-rotating) glass floor the Eiffel Tower opened in 2014 on its 1st floor, 187 feet above the ground and by the glass floors at Chicago’s Willis Tower and the Grand Canyon Skywalk, the rotating glass floor at the Space Needle will offer visitors a view down at the fountain, the green spaces and museums on the 74-acre Seattle Center grounds. The mechanics of the new turntable, now powered by a series of 12 motors, will also be visible through the see-floor flooring.

Space Needle officials expect the rotating glass floor (and wine bar) on the lower deck to be ready for visitors by the July 4th weekend. Details about the new restaurant concept to occupy the space are expected to be announced this fall.

Planning a visit

Admission: Entry costs for the Space Needle usually shift (up) to summer pricing on the Memorial Day weekend, but because the makeover is not fully complete on the upper deck, off-season/preview pricing of $26 for adults, $22 for seniors (65+) and $17 for kids (ages 5-12) is still in effect.

Around July 4, when both the upper deck (with the open-air observation area) and the lower deck (with the rotating glass floor) are open, admission prices will go up to $29 for adults; $24 for seniors and $22 for kids.

Discounted admission may be available with bundled attraction passes or some auto club and other organization memberships.

When to go:  More than 1.3 million people visit the Space Needle each year, and lines can be especially long during the busy summer tourist season. The attraction is likely to get even more popular now that the Observation Deck renovations are nearing completion and once the rotating glass floor feature opens.

Consider purchasing a timed entry ticket online and visiting first thing in the morning (the Observation Deck opens at 9 a.m. Monday to Thursday and at 8 a.m. Friday through Sunday) or at the end of the evening: closing time is 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 12 a.m. Friday to Sunday, with the last entry 30 minutes prior to closing.

To get a unique view of the iconic 650-foot-tall Space Needle, plan a visit to the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Tower, in downtown Seattle. At nearly 1000 feet, the observatory is the tallest public viewing area in the Pacific Northwest.

(My story about the reboot of the Seattle Space Needle first appeared on USA TODAY).

 

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