It could be the most expensive development project in Seattle history, but plans for a new Washington State Convention Center at the footsteps of Capitol Hill have barely caused a ripple in Seattle. Officials involved in the project now want to make some waves. King County Executive Dow Constantine and WSCC chairman Frank Finneran planned to hold a media conference Wednesday morning for “a major announcement regarding plans for convention capacity and benefits to the region.”
The planned development with a price tag near $1.4 billion will be built on land along the north side of Pine just across I-5 from Capitol Hill where King County Metro’s soon to be defunct Convention Place Station is located today. Plans are currently in the works to phase buses out of the existing transit tunnel in order to vacate the space. Details on a land sale between WSCC and the County could be part of the announcement.
UPDATE: The WSCC has reached a deal with the County to buy 4 acres in downtown for $147 million. Under the agreement, King County Metro will get a total of $283 million in principal and interest payments over 30 years. WSCC will also contribute $5 million to affordable housing, though it won’t be required to develop the properties on or around the center. The deal, which must be approved by the County Council, keeps the WSCC addition on track to opening in 2020. WSCC will provide adequate off-site layover space for Metro Transit during construction, the announcement states. Buses will continue to use the site and operate in the transit tunnel until 2019, when additional light rail service is added.
On Monday night, LMN Architects presented some of its most recent design concepts at the Capitol Hill Branch Library, which included a massive cardboard model of the center and its surrounding blocks. However, developer Pine Street Group’s Jane Lewis told CHS in an email that the new drawings would not yet be distributed publicly:
Many of the images used last night are new and represent a significant work in progress. They are in the early investigative stages and were shared to give the crowd a sense of the many options/ideas being explored. To release those without the benefit of the many caveats that were provided last night would suggest that LMN is further along in its thinking than they are.
Even with the new designs, members of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council hoping to see some more details from previous meetings were left wanting more. Of particular interest to meeting attendees were the community benefits the project will be required to develop in exchange for taking over three alleys and two streets. According to developer Matt Griffin, principal at Pine Street Group, those would likely include improvements to the streetscape like canopies, planting, and lighting.
“We’re very interested in the pedestrian environment in this area and that includes the link to Capitol Hill,” Griffin said.
The WSCC has already acquired $56.5 million worth of property between 9th and Boren, and Howell and Olive Way that had been home to a car dealership. The expansion will be a massive project adding thousands of square feet of exhibition space, facilities, and new retail as well as parking for around 800 vehicles. WSCC developers Pine Street Group 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.
Some who attended Monday night’s meeting said they were most concerned about squandering a once-in-a-generation opportunity. “Is it iconic to Seattle? We want something that’s iconic to Seattle,” said one attendee. Others suggested the project would better fit the urban landscape if it was scaled back on its Capitol Hill-facing side.
The development group indicated they were interested avoiding the pedestrian dead-zones that spot the current convention center. Walking down Pine St. from Capitol Hill, LMN architect Mark Reddington said pedestrians would immediately be immersed in an active urban enviremonemt. Initial ideas for the “Boren Beacon” space at the corner of Pine and Beacon include a distillery or brewery. “Something with interesting activity going on all the time,” Reddington said.
Continuing towards downtown, the “Pine St walkups” include small spaces for retail and restaurants. The “9th Ave Market Hall” is intended to offer some public access to the 1.2 million square-foot facility that will otherwise only be open to ticketed guests.
In case there were lingering doubts if Seattle needed a new convention center in the first place, WSCC president and CEO Jeffery Blosser told PPUNC the city would be missing out on millions in tax revenue without it. “We’ve had several clients tell us if you don’t have more space we’re not coming back to Seattle,” he said.
Last month, developers got the final pass on early design guidance from the Design Review Board, allowing the project to move on to submitting plans for street vacations. At that point, Pine Street can submit its Master Use Permit application. While working through the MUP process, the developer will have their first turn before the Seattle Design Commission on February 4th. PPUNC chair John Feit said he did not expect to see any more details about public benefits until after that meeting. Construction on the center is planned to start in 2017 and finish in 2020.
Lurking in the background of the public benefits push, there’s an even bigger concept at play: A bold proposal for a 45-acre lid park to cover large swath of I-5. The idea was among the most popular during the public feedback meeting in September, but while the developers haven’t been quick to mix the public benefits discussion with the design review process, they’re clear that the park is definitely out of scope.