Connecting Capitol Hill to downtown, what ‘public benefits’ should Convention Center expansion provide?

What will the $1.4 billion expansion of the Washington State Convention Center look like? Kinda like this, probably

What will the $1.4 billion expansion of the Washington State Convention Center look like? Kinda like this, probably

In the midst of the many reviews and public oversight shaping the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center is one special process designed to determine the public benefits developers must provide as part of the $1.4 billion expansion project that will reshape the connection between downtown and Capitol Hill.

MapForNotice20299The Convention Center project’s first Planned Community Development meeting is Wednesday night.

A public meeting has been scheduled to identify concerns about the site and to receive public input into establishing public benefit priorities, which may include low income housing, townhouse development, historic preservation, public open space, implementation of adopted neighborhood plans, improvements to pedestrian circulation, urban form, transit facilities and, or other elements that further an adopted City policy and provide a demonstrable public benefit.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. at (Seattle City Hall 600 4th Ave/601 5th Ave, Bertha Landes Room).  Written and/or oral comments may be submitted prior to the meeting or at the meeting.

All meeting facilities are ADA compliant. Translators or interpreters provided upon request. Please contact the Public Resource Center at or (206) 684-8467 at least five business days prior to the meeting to request this service.

Written comments may be submitted through September 2, 2015 and should be submitted to or mailed to:
DPD – Attn: PRC
PO Box 34019
Seattle, WA  98124-4019


Here is how the meeting will work according to DPD:

The public meeting is meant to provide an overview of the proposal so the public can offer feedback on the range of public benefits that should be considered by the Department of Planning and Development.  After the meeting, staff will development a PCD report identifying at least three public benefit priorities that should be addressed as a part of the approval process.  These benefits are separate from what will be required for the alley/street vacation process.

According to the city, public benefits may include low-income housing, historic preservation, and public space.

Representatives for the Convention Center tell CHS they aren’t sure what they’ll hear from the public come Wednesday night but that affordable housing is already planned for the future developments due to requirements from King County attached to some of the property involved.

Another parcel owned by Sound Transit comes with its own set of requirements. How all of these entitlements shake out — and how they mesh with the project’s planned $1 billion+ budget — will be the subject of negotiations between the WSCC and local governments in coming months.

WSCC reps say they are also committed to creating an active and more-engaged next generation for the center that creates a better connection to the surrounding streets — though a recent $3.5 million effort to upgrade the streetscape is reportedly unrelated to the larger goals around the expansion.

Wednesday night’s public benefits hearing will be the community’s chance to add more requirements to the puzzle.

Here is how a city spokesperson explained the PCD process:

A PCD allows for comprehensive development of large tracts of land in downtown zones.  The PCD provides benefits to the developer that allow for greater development flexibility over multiple sites within the tract in exchange for physical improvements (public benefits) greater than what would be anticipated at the individual site level. For instance, it allows any one site within the tract to exceed its allowed floor area, as long as the overall development potential with in the tract is not exceeded. The PCD process also allows the developer to extend permitting over a longer time frame than what would be permitted for any individual development site.

Given its limited geographic focus and the rarity of projects on the scale of the WSCC, you might not be surprised to learn Seattle’s PCD efforts are rare. The most recent example came as Amazon planned its massive wave of development.

Design Proposal Cover Page (2)The design process for the project also continues with a third early design guidance session planned for October. As part of the design reviews, WSCC developers are also planning to complete a “codevelopment” process to design “a 30-story building with 428 housing units and a 16-story building with 595,000 square feet of office space” just north of the project as part of the expansion. WSCC plans to sell the codevelopment properties to help fund the convention center expansion.

Powered by its bonding authority, the WSCC has already acquired $56.5 million worth of land between 9th and Boren, and Howell and Olive Way that was home to a Honda dealership. King County’s transit center block is also on the WSCC’s acquisition target list. WSCC hopes to begin construction on the expansion by 2017.

As the public benefits discussion takes shape, a representative for the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council said the group is hoping to coordinate with the Downtown Seattle Association and may have found an unexpected ally in its efforts to push for a better pedestrian connection along Pine and over I-5 as the Convention Center expansion plan is finalized. Representatives for the landmark-protected Paramount Theater are also preparing to weigh in on the expansion and could help cement commitments to prevent big blank walls from greeting residents and workers as they move up and down Pine.

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23 thoughts on “Connecting Capitol Hill to downtown, what ‘public benefits’ should Convention Center expansion provide?

  1. How about including street level retail spaces so there are not blocks and blocks of blank walls, providing nothing of value to the surrounding community?

    • Agreed. I laugh when I read “connecting Capitol Hill to Downtown” and I see a project that builds a huge blank wall dividing the two neighborhoods.

      At least provide some interest and draw at street level so folks aren’t walking past dead spaces.

    • You would think it would be common sense that space would be left for small retail, especially food? All those conventioneers need to eat, don’t they? Duh.

      • It’s a total no brainer that all the connections with the sidewalk for the convention center should have restaurant and retail spaces. Since this is a public building, it would be nice to see some of those pre-built out, and have smaller spaces with preference for local retailers.

  2. Cap the freeway with green space, basketball courts, and other active recreational amenities to bridge the two neighborhoods and close the giant scar left when they built I-5. That would be my biggest wish.

    • At the very least we need to continue to demand better pedestrian connections between Capitol Hill and SLU. The lack of a pedestrian bridge over I-5 at Harrison or Republican is mind-blowing.

    • Placing a lid on I-5 is the last thing we need when we have existing sidewalks that are crumbling and dangerous. I’d like to see current infrastructure repaired before taking on new projects.

  3. The discussion of incorporating public benefits as accessory uses to this project is a bit odd. This isn’t a private developer looking to build a campus downtown. This is a King County Public Facilities District building a publicly owned facility. Public benefit should be the only focus of the project, not some tradeoff to be incorporated.

  4. People need to remember that the buses are going to be kicked out of the tunnel anyway in 2019, so this project won’t affect the buses or the bus station there because there won’t be any more bus passengers there.

    This is a great project for the city which can attract bigger conventions to town, which we generally can’t compete for because most other cities have bigger centers. Adding a hotel makes this even better! Let’s get it done.

    • I can think of plenty of ways this space could be used that would be more beneficial to the people living in the area than a giant box to attract visitors from out of town. Parks, housing, a market, retail/restaurant space… even the current use as a bus station benefits the community more. Let’s get something better done!

      • The bus station is *already* going to close, and since it’s already a giant hole in the ground, it’s not going to be a park or market.

        Why do you think it would be “more beneficial” to have housing rather than a convention center, which we desperately need in order to attract more and bigger conventions? Is this just a truthiness argument – it *feels* better to you to build housing?

      • Luckily, the project *will* have housing, affordable housing to be specific (per this article).

        I’m not sure there’s any discrete project that could actually lid I-5. Jurisdictionally, financially and just logistically, that’s an epic lift. Unfortunately, neither this expansion nor any other adjacent-to-I5 building is going to do that. Maybe the feds?

        I’d rather see constructive comments go to actually achievable things, as Justin has suggested, like thinking about the street level experience for people walking past the building.

      • For those of us old enough to remember when they built the convention center over the freeway in the mid-eighties, building a lid over I-5 is not such an unreasonable idea. We saw it happen.

        I like the idea of a park on top of I-5 as a bridge between capital hill and downtown, I think it would be of huge public benefit.

      • Sure, having a new convention center would bring in lots of money & outside visitors – but it still would do nothing for the vast majority of people living in the area. Good to hear there will be housing included. It’s not that I am anti-convention center, but it is public land, and I would like for them to learn from their previous mistakes (blocks of uninviting, unuseable, and underutilized space), and continue some of the ideas that worked (walk up food windows, outdoor space). Also, my suggestions did not exclude a convention center; there already is going to be housing, why not add retail/market space? The current convention center has a park. A giant, uninviting cube that extends all the way to the sidewalk is an insult to the community, and tells the center’s guests that there is nothing to see beyond its walls.

      • Well, the expanded convention center would indeed do something for people living in the area…and that something is JOBS!….both inside the Convention Center itself, and also in the accompanying retail spaces which hopefully will be part of the project.

      • “I can think of plenty of ways this space could be used that would be more beneficial to the people living in the area…”

        and how do you propose these “ways” get paid for? we already can’t fund the roads, parks, schools project we desperately need. always with the want to do something but without the dollars to do it.

  5. MOAR Thai restaurants! But seriously, a good plan for traffic mitigation during busy conventions. I ditched the bus during PAX and walked back to the Hill. Pretty sure I beat my bus home.

  6. At the risk of sounding like an old crank – why is it again we have to vote on Fire stations and EMT levies, but somehow this can be built and bonded without public input except for the design?

    • “Wednesday, September 2, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. at (Seattle City Hall 600 4th Ave/601 5th Ave, Bertha Landes Room). Written and/or oral comments may be submitted prior to the meeting or at the meeting.”

      Reading is FUNdamental.

      • I believe the point of Brad’s comment was that much smaller capital projects with more obvious public benefit such as fire stations go through numerous rounds of very public discussion and voting before municipal bonds for funding can be issued. This project has more than $1.4 billion in bond funding, but has not been subject to anywhere near the same level of public scrutiny about whether or not it should happen at all.

  7. Small mixed retail spaces, and meeting spaces for community and nonprofit organizations. But small mixed retail is critical. We have been building too much BIG retail (lyric’s former office max space as an example). If you look at the vibrant boutique, restaurant and cafe culture of ballard, for example, you will notice that so many of those spaces are probably under 2k sqr ft and affordable.

    Consider the boom in food trucks: what if the convention center expansion had a food court that catered to small food companies getting their start, or food trucks looking to move into more permanent spaces, kind of like the Armory at seattle center. Places where conventioneers, shoppers, office workers and people transiting from downtown to capitol hill could stop for a quick bite to eat.