Ahead of ‘major’ announcement, Convention Center developers come to Hill to show off latest models

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Community members inspect a model of the new convention center at the Capitol Hill Branch library. (Image: CHS)

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.

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Also noted: The WSCC expansion has a new “ADDITION” logo

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.

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

“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.

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18 thoughts on “Ahead of ‘major’ announcement, Convention Center developers come to Hill to show off latest models

  1. I like the physical model. It does a good job showing how it will work with the space. I guess I’m missing something about why it is so expensive. The most expensive project for Seattle EVER? The building looks good (to me) but I don’t see why it is so much more expensive. Is it the size of the land? Also, the word Iconic comes up… I don’t see anything iconic about the design. It just looks like a regular (but nice) building. Hardly iconic.

    • It’s not really clear from how its written, but this is what I gathered from the LMN Design proposal that Pine Street Group is including in their 1.4B proposal:

      1.23 million SF addition of Convention Center space (including parking)
      330k Residential
      575k Commercial

      All in, that’s about 2 million sf being built, which translates to $700/sf. Since you’re adding a full 800 parking stalls to the site, and you’ll have to dig down without interrupting the train service…I’m sure a lot of that cost/sf is absorbed in how challenging of a project this is, plus the engineering of creating large enough structural bays to contain the convention center program

  2. I wish I had been able to attend. Thanks for the update, CHS.

    My main issue is the visual and physical wall it creates between Capitol Hill and Downtown. Its hard to tell in their model as you don’t see the perspective from street level but it really blocks the skyline from Pine St. That wall should be as pleasing and welcoming as possible.

    I don’t think we have much of a choice as the infill is needed (a growing city shouldn’t have voids of this magnitude) but what we should expect is a welcoming bridge between the two neighborhoods. This rendition does better with the glass walls on the East side – better than what has been presented before. This a scenario where we shouldn’t settle as its a once in a lifetime opportunity for repurposing this space.

  3. At the price point, it’s a shame we couldn’t have an iconic building such as our library that would really make this project stand out amongst buildings not only in Seattle, but around the world. There’s nothing controversial about this building, which means it won’t be a conversation piece, and most people living here will simply disregard it – or worse, simply complain about it after the fact. Bummer for the cost, imo.

    • There were better, or at least more iconic and interesting, options but the review and selection committee didn’t choose them and went with safe and boring. Sigh.

    • The library is so “iconic” that it gives me the creeps, with the way it looms over you awkwardly from all angles. Those cold blocky walls with bars every which way look like some high-tech prison. It’s such an uncomfortable-looking building that I can’t imagine ever wanting to go inside it, and in fact I generally try to walk along the other side of the street or just take some other route that doesn’t go near it. No, it’s not rational, but I have to wonder what kind of drugs the architects were on – it really takes some doing to design a building so awkward that it actually beats out the Darth Vader building for the title of “Most Unfriendly Building in Seattle”.

      Boring is fine. Boring is normal. Boring is at least not *ugly*. Please let’s not have any more “iconic” buildings downtown.

  4. I wish the east façade had a row of apartments (this could be the affordable housing component) fronting on Boren. The building then would look like a large residential project on one side, the side facing a densely developed residential neighborhood. With this kind of use, it would also tie in Olive tower into the project more cohesively.

  5. The “pedestrian environment in this area and […] link to Capitol Hill” rehtoric is a joke at this point. This a huge box that visually disconnects the hill from downtown. Worse, without capping at least 2 or 3 blocks worth of highway, the climb up pike/pine/olive is going to be even more of a noisy, windy hike than it is today. We aren’t entitled to get anything out of the project, as it isn’t really on the hill, but I wish they would cut the BS handwaving about this benefiting us in any way.

  6. Why does it have to be so tall? Why can’t the main exhibition hall be closer to ground level? It really overwhelms the Paramount and Camlin buildings.

  7. It’s too bad they aren’t building over I-5 between Pike and Pine, at least then it could have had a physical connection to the existing building and continued the lid.

    • So you would rather that they remove the Paramount theater instead to build it there and span across the freeway? Plus we just spent all that money putting in a train tunnel under that location (the venting for it is in the triangle between the Paramount and freeway).

  8. We have a singular opportunity to develop this site with a truly spectacular building. It seems that a really high tower could rise out of the Convention Center – or several towers, all higher than 30 stories. The Convention Center “box” under them should be built with expansion possibilities in mind, possible additional floors to the main “box”. Also, existing tunnel access should be retained for additional Link expansion or the streetcar connectio. A smaller park could be incorporated in any design.