Capitol Hill Station development: The unauthorized LGBTQ edition

(Images courtesy of Seattle LGBTQ Community Development and used with permission)

Groups working to shape development of affordable housing, a market plaza, thousands of square-feet of commercial space and — with hope — a community facility at the Capitol Hill Station on Broadway were surprised to see a rather bold rendering of the plan for the light rail site appear on the Internet last week.

“This is the vision as I understand it and we’re trying to put it out there,” Gerod Rody of the Seattle LGBTQ Community Development group tells CHS. “We have a unique opportunity to build something that is an icon.”

Rody said a significant portion of the commercial space in a development shaped as a gay civic center should become office facilities for nonprofits serving the LGBTQ communities and “straight allies.”

Rody’s renderings shaped by Capitol Hill architect and entrepreneur Chris Pardo show a plaza opening onto Broadway and a giant, shimmying hotel tower above the subterranean light rail station box below. It’s a vision not far from what we described when we talked to the group and others working to shape community priorities for the site a year ago — Hopes for a (really tall?) LGBTQ civic center grow at Capitol Hill’s light rail station.

It’s probably also impossible to build.


Here’s how one anonymous commenter put it on the national real estate blog chain Curbed’s post about the project:

There is nothing factual about this article. As others have noted, Sound Transit is many months away from issuing an RFP for the multiple parcels at the transit site. In addition, the development controls are still being finalized between the City and Sound Transit – which controls are the product of YEARS of dialogue and meetings with the Capitol Hill community. The development controls as drafted do not call for anything close to what Pardo is proposing – the hotel tower shown is twice as tall as the height limits for the site. A hotel use of that size is not permitted under the Code for that location, nor is the quantity of non-retail commercial space. The development controls – again the product of YEARS of community input – call for a significant commitment of housing on the site – both market-rate and affordable. It also looks like there are buildings on top of the station box and station entrance – which Sound Transit won’t allow. The plaza is in the wrong location too – it can only go in ONE location – the location as determined by Sound Transit which sits on unbuildable space on top of ST’s station box.

The commenter also calls Pardo’s design a “slap in the face” to the work put in by groups over the years and takes a few choice swings at his business dealings. But you get the idea.

George Pieper, president of the Seattle LGBTQ Community Development group formed to help shape priorities representing the area’s gay and lesbian residents, distanced his group from the design. “Chris offered free of charge, at the urging of one of our broad members, to provide a drawing to us so that we could show folks a physical rendering of our vision,” Pieper wites. “The rendering in the article is that drawing, but that is where the connection ends.”

CHS reported on the recently forged “coordinated development plan” between the city and Sound Transit for the land surrounding the Capitol Hill Station site currently owned by the transit agency. Community members working on the plan say it is unprecedented in its framework requiring affordable housing be part of the development of the prime Broadway real estate around the future station. Of the 400 apartment units planned across the five sites that will be sold off under the plan, the agreement currently calls for 36% to achieve the city’s affordable housing mark — 50% of the area’s median income, or around $30,000 per year for a one-person household.

Part of the plan includes a requirement for a plaza to fill a tough-to-develop space directly above the subway station. That space will eventually be home to Broadway’s farmers market. Developers that present a plan for a community facility in their proposals will receive bonus points in the bidding process. We outlined more of the opportunities — and a few of the issues — in the framework here. We also tried to clear up some of the questions from a September public hearing on the development plan.

Sound Transit hopes to begin auctioning off the more than 100,000 square feet of land to the highest, most qualified bidders by 2014 to have the projects completed in time for the station’s planned late 2016 start of operations. At market rates of between $350 to $400 per square foot, the five sites could command more than $40 million on the open market.

But Rody says the vision of the station parcels he has shared doesn’t have a financial sponsor at this time.

“It’s a complete fantasy. The RFQs and RFPs haven’t been released for the project,” said Cathy Hillenbrand, who has headed a group representing the Capitol Hill Community Council and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce in the ongoing process with the city and Sound Transit.

She’s correct. The request for qualifications and the requests for proposals are still months off. First, the City Council must approve the agreement recently signed by the city and Sound Transit laying out the framework for the development. That’s not slated to happen until December. Then the Sound Transit board has to sign off on the deal, too.

That’s also a lot of TLAs — and a lot more time. Rody’s push, he says, is about bigger issues.

“As it stands, the LGBT component of this plan is not as prominent as it should be,” Rody said.

 “There is a lot of straight oriented development underway. Capitol Hill was renovated by the LGBT community and it would be a shame for us to be left out of it.”

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20 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Station development: The unauthorized LGBTQ edition

  1. Could this design concept be any more cold, dehumanizing and monolithic? Maybe it’s a joke. You know, like what would be left after the Big One hits Seattle? Are there any architects left who can actually design something beautiful, useful and and with, hmmnn, I don’t know, PEOPLE in mind? Ugh!

  2. I admire the people who are wanting to help, and feel this center would be the answer. I just wonder where the funding for ongoing operations is to come from? As a member of the LGBTQ community, I can honestly say that I’ve never heard people speak of it, other than in relationship to the Light Rail station articles.

  3. SOMEbody got their panties in a knot over something that was pretty obviously meant not to be real.

    Seems apparent the “anonymous commenter” is somebody, maybe with Sound Transit, who’s offended? Big deal. It can’t be built. No harm done. Capitol Hill has always had artsy folks who like to stir the pot and think outside of the box.

    I view the design as a bit of a middle finger to Sound Transit and the whole process.

    I find nothing cold and dehumanizing about it myself. But, if I were going to call anything cold and unwelcoming, I’d say it’s the giant trench we’ve been going around for several years. I can hardly wait for it to be finished!

  4. Has the architecture of the 60s and 70s taught us nothing? How frequently are these big empty plazas used by anyone? The SCCC one, mostly empty. The ones around the Convention Place station… empty. That said, design is interesting.

    Also – do we really need an LBGTQ center? Seems like we had one and it disappeared. I used to go to my campus one in the early 90s, but it’s a different time now and doesn’t seem like the kids are using them like they used to.

  5. I am wondering the same thing? We are building something that needs to be relevant for the next 40-50 years. Will a LGBTQ community center matter in five years? In the past gay people had to hide away in bars with no windows, and in clubs that did not reveal who or what happened inside. It’s not like that today. Certainly not in this community, so why do we need a community center for one group of people? If gay marriage passes in the state we will have more acceptance than ever of the gay population (I voted for it).

    Wouldn’t the community as a whole benefit more from an all inclusive community center or function? I remember there being this big call for gay youth space. One opened in the building where I work, but I have never seen more than a few people there at any time. How is this any better than say Kaladi brothers coffee on Pike st?

    This site is too important for us build something that is not all inclusive. It should allow for taller development as well. Get over your fear of change Seattle!

  6. If a plaza is activated on a regular basis (with Light Rail riders or Farmer’s Market) I think it will be successful.

    My main operational concerns remain:
    1.) Has anyone done an analysis of how much big gay subsidy is required to build this place AND operate it. There is a reason why every queer nonprofit is in dumpy office space, because it cannot afford anything more. Who is going to pay for this on a long-term basis? I have concerns that there is not this intensive level of philanthropic support for the gay community.

    2.) San Fran anyone? Please let’s pay attention to places where this has not succeeded, and they have a lot more gays (and money!)
    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Gay-community-center-d

    3.) Isn’t CHH building 30,000 sq feet of non-profit office space at 12th Ave Arts on 12th and Olive? How much non-profit office space is needed (and should be subsidized)?

    4.) Lastly, the fact that current development on the Hill is called “straight oriented” is outright ridiculous to me. Seriously? Last I checked it is for higher income earners, many of which are gay and support the MANY gay run businesses on the Hill.

  7. Those plazas taught us that there needs to be a reason for people to be in the plaza! Plazas are great ideas, but when they are bounded by parking lots, blank walls and the like, no one wants or needs to be there! Zone for a coffee shop, restaurant, open the plaza up to the street scene and the sidewalk and ka-blam, you have a great social mixing zone! Also, this one would also host the farmers market, which sounds pretty awesome to me.

    My only problem. A plaza on broadway would probably just become a living room/bathroom/dining room for all the homeless and street kids that are already out there. Hrm.

  8. I fully support this space as a permanent home for the Farmer’s Market, but it is likely that this would be open only 2 days a week at most. Why? Because most of the vendors have other farmer’s markets to go to other days of the week. So, I think alot of thought must go into how to “activate” the plaza when the market is not there.

    And I agree with other commenters that there may not be a need for some kind of community center there…if that is to happen it should only be after a thorough analysis of existing community spaces, including the one to be included in the soon-to-be-built 12th Ave Arts Center. I would oppose a community center exclusive for the LGBT community, because such places in the past have not been financially viable and perhaps not even used much. An inclusive center, which could be used for LGBT events and purposes, would make alot more sense.

  9. I agree with what’s been posted by so many– I seriously doubt the need for a permanent LGBT community center. If there was a real need being filled, the one on Pike would still be there. There isn’t.

    It gets tedious hearing this constant whine for a “queer youth space”. It’s just a LGBT version of saying “What about THE CHILDREN??!!!”.

  10. Great–another version of UW Schmitz hall.
    If Pardo and crew had looked at the blueprints for the tunnel, they would have seen that the lot to the south of the station building is unbuildable. If they paid attention to zoning, they would have seen a hotel is not zoned for this area, and that the height exceeds even the proposed height for the affordable housing bonus.
    Pardo has never been accused of taking context into consideration, and this flagrant example shows he has not learned anything, except he never misses the opportunity for self-promotion.
    As for Rody, doesn’t he understand that this land is to be auctioned, and the second community priority is for affordable housing (after the market)? He should be amassing qualified developers and financing to build the LGBQT center, and stop wasting valuable time.

  11. And one more thing, on a somewhat related note (since this is not really a design for the Cap Hill Station): why is Seattle architecture obsessed with simply stacking boxes on one another? Is it because it’s cheap? Easy?

    Almost every new building either downtown or on the Hill is just another clump of jarring, glass boxes. They lack any sense of creativity and look incredibly cheap.

  12. The plaza would be privately owned, but publicly accessible. It would probably have operating hours, though, to make sure that people don’t camp out. On the flip side, it would have signage saying it is open to the public. Many of these plazas “trick” the public into thinking they are closed to the public, which is why they are empty.
    http://www.seattle.gov/council/licata/public_space.htm
    Also, many plazas are simply poorly designed. They are designed for maintenance, security, and on the cheap. There is not enough seating, or it faces the wrong way. It is too shady, or there is no shelter. People want to feel comfortable, but they don’t want to miss out on the action, or at least people watching. To quote that famous lesbian, Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there.”

  13. People, remember this plan WILL NEVER HAPPEN. It’s just somebody’s idea, that’s all.

    It’s interesting how many folks think it’s a real plan. I love the reference to ugly Soviet architecture.

  14. On the plaza: Sound Transit insists that no one build on top of the “station box”, or the area on ground level that’s 60 or so feet above where the underground station is. The reasoning I’ve heard in meetings with ST folks is that they want to be able to have access to the station from ground level if they ever have to do maintenance, and having a building on top would kind of get in the way of that.

    In short, there’s going to a relatively empty space in the middle of the development above the Capitol Hill light rail station because Sound Transit says there’s going to be. It could be fenced off and left undecorated and unoccupied, I guess, but that doesn’t seem like a great option. I do understand everyone’s plaza complaints, as I’ve witnessed quite a few miserable ones around the city and also in my hometown of Orange County.

    As someone who’s watched and taken part in the planning process for the transit-oriented development (TOD) that’s going to happen on top of the light rail station, I’m cautiously optimistic about the light rail station plaza. One one hand, I have worries spawned by many, many miserable plazas. On the other, I know the plaza will be occupied by the Farmer’s Market one or two days a week. Also the the developer of the site adjacent to the plaza (forget which site, sorry) will be responsible for programming the plaza, meaning that someone will actually be in charge of keeping the plaza lively. At the very least, there will be someone who’s case we can get on if the plaza is sad, lonely, or creepy.

  15. Recently, there was a comment somewhere on this blog that Nagle Place would be extended north through the middle of this plaza area. Does anyone know if this is actually true? If it is, that would be a really awful decision and would obviously negate any possibility of making the plaza a pleasant, people-oriented space.