Groundbreaking construction project on Seattle's Space Needle begins.

by: Ranji Sinha Updated:

SEATTLE - The transformation of Seattle’s most iconic structure got underway Friday with workers raising a construction platform from the lower levels of the Space Needle all the way to the observation deck.

It’s a plan that’s been in the works ever since major renovations were announced for the structure. It began late Friday with a target start time of 11 PM.

Officials from the Space Needle discussed this major piece of work with KIRO 7 hours before the big lift was set to begin. According to Chief Marketing officer Karen Olson, the lift of the construction platform could take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours.

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The platform has been built around the Space Needle on the lower level and was connected to cables with the plan to lift it all the way up to the top. Late in the evening Friday, workers could be seen walking the observation platform with flashlights checking the platform and the cables.

The Space Needle is one of the most visited and photographed structures in the world, and after its facelift, it will look essentially the same. The renovation is being called the “Space-lift” and will cost roughly $100 million. Karen Olson did admit that Seattle’s construction boom did make planners wonder if workers would be available to work on the iconic structure, a situation that did resolve itself as word of the project spread, “Everyone wanted to work on this project, we have guys that said my dad worked on this project, my uncle worked on this project...it's really a 3d game of chess it's a big game of Jenga.”

Olson says the construction and renovation process starts with the actual heavy lifting, raising the construction platform to the observation deck. It’s a process that’s actually reserved mostly for dams and other large structures.  

In this instance, the platform was built as a ring around the outside of the Space Needle, connected to cables, and lifted for the first major work on the Space Needle since 1962, when it was built.

Olson says a number of workers could be on the platform as it is raised, even more, will be surveying from the observation deck.

The entire goal is to make the Space Needle’s observation deck a see-through experience, where glass floors will allow tourists and visitors a view of Seattle below. To make that happen the construction platform will be in place until April-May of 2018 and some time beyond. The glass floor concept has been used in other observation decks including the Skydeck at the Willis Tower in Chicago, formerly known as the ‘Sears Tower.’ There is also a glassfloored walkway over the Grand Canyon.

Some tourists like Tayla Toros who visited Seattle this week, say the new deck could draw them back to Seattle for another visit, “It's beautiful in Seattle so definitely ...I feel like it reminds of something, in Chicago, the glass floor.”

In the near future, several dozen workers will be able to fit on the construction platform and work on the observation deck 24-hours-a-day 7-days-a-week. Olson says it is work that everyone will see at Seattle’s most visible structure, even if some people did not want it that way, “our construction partners ... they wanted us to keep a low word about what's happening tonight... I'm like "It's the Space Needle" we're open.”

This method of construction has never really been done before, so the entire project is new ground and new experience according to Olson. She also says one of the reasons they’ve undertaken this project –lifting a construction platform instead of dressing the entire building in scaffolding-- is to keep the Space Needle open. The process of raising the platform could go into the early morning hours Saturday, building out the platform once it reaches the top will take another 3-to-4 weeks.

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