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Hopes for a (really tall?) LGBTQ civic center grow at Capitol Hill’s light rail station

A document that City of Seattle planners hope will be at the heart of an agreement with Sound Transit on the development plan for the Broadway light rail station is now complete — and while it doesn’t explicitly call out for the creation of a big gay hotel tower at Broadway and John, it does leave the door open to a building that could soar above the area’s zoned heigh limits and lays some of the groundwork for a development that includes a LGBTQ “civic center.”

“The revised UDF has stronger language regarding the desire for a LGBTQ community cultural center to be located within the redevelopment as well a greater emphasis on the importance of sustainable building practices,” city planner Vanessa Murdoch tells CHS.

We’ve posted about the process to draft the Capitol Hill Light Rail Station Sites Urban Design Framework over the past 6 months. The documentation of feedback from individuals and community groups will be used by the City Council as it forges and agreement on planning the 2+ acres of Broadway real estate Sound Transit will develop surrounding the light rail station.

Sound Transit is a CHS advertiser.

Murdoch said that most of the work in revising the document after its initial release has been strengthening the priorities around creating the community center as part of the development. “The LGBT idea was, basically, elevated from the “Other Good Ideas” level (of the UDF).”

An LGBTQ center is now a “Guiding Principle” of the document right up there with “affordable housing” and “sustainability.”

A Cultural Center and Community Space
Pursue the inclusion in the redevelopment of a community cultural facility that represents the history and evolving culture of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, including its prominent role as a center for LGBTQ culture and the arts.

The push for an LGBTQ community element in the Sound Transit development has been growing since the start of the station’s planning years ago. In October 2010, we wrote about efforts (Gay TOD: A vision for an LGBT center in Capitol Hill light rail station development) by the Greater Seattle Business Association to drive the idea forward.

With its potential for addressing some of the Hill’s art community space needs, the progress the 12th Ave Arts project has made over the summer has also helped make a focus on LGBTQ community space easier to build on. “There is more consensus growing around more specificity on the programming for a center with 12th Ave Arts making space for art,” Murdoch said.

A steering committee has been created “to explore programming needs and options for a LGBTQ civic center as well as to investigate the feasibility of locating such a center within the Capitol Hill Light Rail Station TOD,” according to the document. The committee is headed up by Jeff Kinney, a community member and transportation consultant at Parametrix.

I got involved in the civic center because it’s a momentous opportunity for Capitol Hill and for the LGBTQ people of Seattle. It can become a thriving place that embodies the values and spirit of the neighborhood, in addition to serving important social and economic functions for the community. I first took an interest in the civic center for a more practical reason, given my background in public projects and transportation planning. I wanted to help navigate the policies and processes that influence its success. Anyone interested in the LGBT civic center is welcome to contact me directly at

Murdoch says another push in the background of the process to shape the city’s priorities for the Capitol Hill light rail development is the push for greater height in the buildings. Unlike the LGBTQ civic center concept, there is no explicit portion of the UDF that prioritizes a taller building — greater height didn’t make it out of the previously mentioned “Great Ideas” section — but Murdoch acknowledged hearing feedback from many in the community who want to see the greatest possible density around Broadway Station and says the plan leaves the door open for a the creation of a possible 120-foot-building along Broadway.

“To go to 120 would be true departure,” Murdoch said. “There would need to be a re-zone but the UDF doesn’t preclude that.”

In the meantime, a request to “bump” the Broadway side of the project to 85 feet from 65 and the backside of the project from 45 to 65 feet could happen within the existing process of the city’s design review process as the heights would be “within the general character of multifamily.”

And what would fill that tower? If the UDF is established as the guide, “a significant amount of affordable housing,” a “highly transparent civic structure with offices and services,” and, if the experts are correct, a hotel. That’s the plan, anyhow.

The complete Capitol Hill Light Rail Station Sites Urban Design Framework is below. You can view the technical appendix here. Learn more at DPD: Capitol Hill Light Rail Immediate Station Area Planning


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10 thoughts on “Hopes for a (really tall?) LGBTQ civic center grow at Capitol Hill’s light rail station

  1. I have to say that this idea of an lgbtq community center truly boggles my mind. Do people remember how the old center in a tiny old building with much lower overhead couldn’t even afford its rent? And it closed. I am a thirty-something lesbian/queer. I have absolutely no need for this kind of center in my life. I live outside of the hill, in one of the fastest growing queer hoods (cap hill isn’t the only gay place anymore). Moreover, who would pay for this???? Can the gsba underwrite the cost of a space like this? At a time when queer youth are searching for a separate and stand alone space I also take issue with the idea that the lgbtq umbrella is something all gays want to stand under. I don’t perceive the gsba as representing the young demographic. Has this segment of the community been involved in this discussion at all? Has anyone talked to the queer youth space kids about using their 100k from the city here?

  2. I’m gay too and share some of your doubts about the idea of a LGBTQ (when did that “Q” get added?) community center. I think that our long-term goal should be for us to become integrated fully into society, and believe that this is happening, slowly but surely. But this idea sets us apart from the “mainstream,” and is the antithesis of the goal I have just stated.

    What would be wrong with just a “community center” open/accessible to all, gay and straight alike? This would be much more utilized than a center for only 10% of the population.

  3. If we’re going to use sexual preference as a defining characteristic, then I’d have to say that I’m straight.

    I’m with calhoun on this topic. Why can’t we just get past all this divisive categorization and just be people. A civic center where all of us can participate in community together should be the goal.

    I may be naive in thinking this way, but I was also bummed to find out that the new restaurant/club going in on Olive Way is going to cater to a specific crowd. Why can’t we just be together on the hill without this voluntary segregation?

  4. The language in the document:

    “A Cultural Center and Community Space
    Pursue the inclusion in the redevelopment of a community cultural facility that represents the history and evolving culture of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, including its prominent role as a center for LGBTQ culture and the arts.”

    refers to a community center for the entire community, with attention to the CH’s history as a center of gay culture, but Kinney and others refer to the center as “the LGBTQ civic center”, which implies something much different. So which is it?

    It’s interesting that some members of what has always been a minority culture on the Hill, one that’s been welcomed and accepted by the majority, reject that acceptance when they have a chance to brand something as their own, preferring non-integration after all. Does Kinney think the LGBTQ community would not be welcome in a Capitol Hill community center that was not sexual-orientation-identified? This all seems like sandbox power politics.

    Is there one LGBTQ community? Is it still centered on the Hill? Can it support a center in a new building, or is the general public expected to subsidize it? What effect will it (any community center) have on the affordability of housing in the building, if it generates no money?

  5. This is a terrible idea… it will totally wreck site lines all over the hill. What does the neighborhood behind the station have to say about this? Why to we what taller buildings? Can the LGBTQ afford this? who is paying for it?
    I actually think we should go the other way and stick to 3-4 story buildings. You get too tall and it’s going to become very commerical feeling!

  6. The idea machines have been going full speed about the Broadway sites post construction of light rail for 3-4 years now.

    And, there has always, from the first meeting I attended, there has been an LGBT community center thread among the many other ideas.

    None of the speculative planning, visioning, has involved the hard core issue of big time money.

    SGN is a post Gay Center, project from an early era that fell apart for lack of money, 38 years ago or so.

    The most recent Center on Pike near 12th Ave., well located and serving vital needs, closed after burning thru a start up fund, lacking the all critical issue of monthly operational dollars. As they were trying hard to survive, SGN donated $2,000.00, other groups with far more money than SGN donated zero. And with no rent money, $5,00.00 per month, militant landlord not negoiating at all, they closed the door with a garage sale.

    So the all important question, in a recession and funds drying up for non profits in all directions, the question comes down to money, many millions.

    Any answers?

  7. Scoville, a couple of (admittedly picky) clarifications:
    1. the term is “sexual orientation”not “preference”. Using the term “preference” buys into the ridiculous notion that a person chooses to be gay or straight. Yes, it’s a picky distinction, but it’s not inconsequential.

    2. restaurants that intend to cater to a specific community (in this case, I assume gay-oriented restaurants) are fine, as long as they’re not unwelcoming to others. I’ve never, never, been in a gay-targeted restaurant that wasn’t totally welcoming of, and popular with, straight people. But really it seems a moot point on Capitol Hill, where every restaurant is pretty much comfortable for everybody.

  8. This pretty well sums it up. A gay center is a “nice to have” kind of place, but without a steady handout from the City, it’ll never self-support. It won’t generate contributions from “the community”, and it’ll close just like the last one did. Hell, look at SEAMEC– they serve a really important function, and they can barely scrape by from one year to the next. If the Gay Community Center filled such a crucial need, it would’ve survived.

    Wasting taxpayer money like this would be a dumb move. A far better idea is a Broadway or CapHill community center, that G/L organizations can share with other groups. That does far more to build “community” than a special GLBT-only center would.

  9. What exactly do the planners anticipate will take place in this community center? Kind of funny how nothing specific is mentioned.

    Capitol Hill has a healthy supply of queer-owned and queer-friendly performance and gathering spaces. Are we proposing to put some of them out of business with a government subsidized competitor?

    This reminds me of the $50K city grant to create a “Queer Youth Space”. No specific plans, just a general idea that never amounted to amounted to anything.

  10. I would guess that the Q got added because the people pushing this idea realized that gay kids under 30 use the word “queer” more than “gay” or “lesbian” and for me, this only highlights a big problem with this idea. I really don’t think that there is a unified voice for the gay community anymore and to raise the kind of money you would need for a space like this, it would have to come out of a really big, and powerful, unified community. I can see a lot of people just having an issue with it being called a “LGBTQ” space instead of a “queer” space or just a “community” space. I mean, what is great about CH is that I don’t feel like it is us vs. them (gay vs. straight) up here, so why would we want to create this division permanently in a building or community center. And if we wanted to, is there some uber rich gay dude somewhere willing to pony up the 10m that would be needed for it???