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$1B Washington State Convention Center expansion means big changes across I-5

One concept for the center's expansion (Image: LMN Architects)

One concept for the center’s expansion (Image: LMN Architects)

There is a $1 billion plan afoot that will radically transform the connection between Capitol Hill and downtown. Tuesday night, a public process begins to shape the massive expansion of the Washington State Convention Center:

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The quadrilateral area above is the planned home for the expanded center (Image: WSCC)

The quadrilateral area above is the planned home for the expanded center (Image: WSCC)

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 is today home to a Honda dealership. King County’s transit center block is also on the WSCC’s acquisition target list.

The Puget Sound Business Journal reports the total cost of the project is expected to reach $1 billion. The center hopes to begin construction by 2017.

The massive project is currently the early Environmental Impact Statement phase of the state’s public development process. “Preliminary analysis indicates that the proposed WSCC Addition may required permits/approvals from various city, county, and state entities,” reads the state’s understated boiler plate for the EIS.

The process requires the applicant to provide a roster of site alternatives for its planning:

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 11.17.35 AM

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 10.49.16 AMOur money — far less than $1 billion — is on the preferred. Here’s how the “scoping” phase of the process is intended to work:

Scoping is the first step in the EIS process. The purpose of scoping is to narrow the focus of the EIS to significant environmental issues, to eliminate insignificant impacts from detailed study, and to identify alternatives to be analyzed in the EIS. Scoping also provides notice to the public and other agencies that an EIS is being prepared, and initiates their involvement in the process.

“The scoping process not only alerts the lead agency, but also the applicant to areas of concern and controversy early in the process,” the state guide to the process continues. “As a result, it offers more opportunities for the applicant to consider and explore means to address the concerns,” it cheerfully concludes.

Tuesday night, planners will hold an “EIS scoping meeting” open to the public with more information about the proposals and the opportunity to provide public feedback:

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You can also submit public comment via email to by March 11th.

This is your opportunity to tell planners about your concerns, hopes, and dreams for the radical transformation of the world just across the freeway from the base of Capitol Hill. Maybe it’s time — finally — to cap I-5. Or maybe you just want to make sure your walk to downtown isn’t blocked by massive empty walls. Parking for 1,600 additional vehicles? Gondolas, anyone?

UPDATE 3/4/2015: We asked a representative from a Capitol Hill community group about the organization’s plans for involvement in the WSCC process. While it’s early for a public statement about the project from the Hill’s POV, here are six ideas they’re working on:

  1. Mitigation $$ for the Hill
  2. Expansion doesn’t turn its back on us
  3. Can we leverage the I-5 lid out of this?
  4. Pedestrian connectivity down Pine – scale of building to relate to Pike/Pine
  5. Make the convention center hip, and steer conventioneers to Hill businesses
  6. Simplify the sidewalk/street design compared to what has been built in the past.


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48 thoughts on “$1B Washington State Convention Center expansion means big changes across I-5

  1. It took me the longest time to orient myself in those top photos. Then I realized it’s because the brand new Premiere on Pine high-rise, right next door to the Paramount Theatre, is missing from them.

  2. I work in that area, and often walk through the Convention Center – it’s nearly always EMPTY! Why in the blazes do they need more space when they can’t fill the space they have?

    • As I understand it part of the reason (I’m guessing) for this expansion is that the present WSCTC or if you prefer WSCC is too small for any large conventions. It’s why Seattle does not get major convention business and why political conventions by the RNC or the DNC would not consider coming to Seattle. Our convention center is small by many cities’ comparison.

    • I work in the convention center and frankly, you are incorrect. More often than not there is an event going on and they often draw very large crowds that spill out into the surrounding businesses like clockwork.

    • It’s not. There are frequently large conventions there. Empty ground-floor lobbies aren’t an accurate gauge of whether the meeting space upstairs is full or empty. It IS true, however, the big groups mostly come during the summer when our weather doesn’t suck.

  3. I think the logic is their facilities aren’t big enough to win bids on the big professional conferences, which these days are very grand in scale. No idea how valid that is, but still seems incredibly unnecessary. The convention center seems pretty big. Why can’t the existing facility be reconfigured/remodeled to create larger halls needed for accommodating more people in one room, if that’s the need.

    WSCC is a “quasi governmental” public facilities district and doesn’t require state approval to expand.

    Some info here:

    I hope this ends poverty.

  4. Interesting. It could be an additional boon for business if we’re able to attract trade shows and conferences to fill the new space. This brings the need for additional vendors to support them as well as hotels to house them. Anyone who has tried to get a hotel room in the summer knows how expensive they can be due to demand with limited supply. The spillover affect could be huge.

  5. So, is that property now known simply as the Washington State Convention Center and not the Washington State Convention and Trade Center? (WSCTC)

  6. I would be in favor of the preferred scheme as long as the potential of the street level is considered and something is done to improve the existing facility. The street level of the current WSCC along Pike is awful—where there actually is a street level use that gets used on a daily basis its deep under an overhang and/or located in a no-man’s-land. The current facility is terribly disjointed. This proposal hopefully will not replicate the same mistakes.

    • There won’t be an entrance to the tunnel here anymore, light rail skips this stop so once there are no buses in the tunnel anymore this whole station will be gone.

  7. What are the restaurant and bar options going to be in the new complex? The plan is incomplete without this information. This town still needs a gourmet root beer bar. A French-hotdog fusion restaurant. And perhaps an artisanal moonshine distillery. Someone is falling down on the job here.

  8. Another option for WSCC is that the center can have overlapping conventions, as one is breaking down and visitors are leaving, another is ramping up with visitors coming, which would reduce spikes in our vacancy rates of hotels. A lot of tax revenue is generated by tourism, and although some might be irked when having to share our city with them, the rates they get taxed at is so sky high we should be kissing their feet, otherwise our taxes would be significantly higher.

    • This is the plan for what happens when the tunnel is only for light rail trains, which will not run to convention place station.

  9. Seattle will likely need to extend it’s Link subway to Ballard. Convention Center is perfectly named for the Preferred Alternative, if the subway stop is designed into the buildings structure.
    Trains from Seatac to Northgate will be using the newly built tunnel to Capital Hill on a minimum of 4 minute spacing. However, the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) was designed for 2 minute spacing of trains. This would be a great opportunity to merge both Ballard-Uptown-South Lake Union trains into Convention Staion and provide cross platform transfers for travelers both north and south, and east (Bellevue) and west at all stops between Westlake and International District.
    Please don’t let this opportunity go. Lake Union and the Denny Triangle are where our new development is occurring. Let’s capture the moment.

      • ‘Preferred’ by a hand full of transit activists at Seattle Subway, drumming up support for another $2B tunnel under 2nd Ave.
        1. We have a tunnel that is at a fraction of it’s design capacity.
        2. Wasting a couple of billion on another one is a pipe dream.
        3. Why require transfers a block away between lines, when both trains can use the same platforms?
        4. Discounting service to Convention Center (new and old) from the region is so short sighted when trying to attract visitors to a simple to ride system.
        5. Discounting a new station at Denny Park AND Seattle Center on this line fails to address the needs of transit hopefuls Now, not when Sound Transit decides to address the problem in 20 more years.
        I’m suggesting preservation of the idea, not more demolition of existing facilities that have a useful purpose.

      • In response to your #1: Sound Transit has repeatably stated that the current tunnel will be at capacity once both North Link and East Link are up and running (aprox 2023). So if we want another line to Ballard and/or West Seattle it will need a different way to get through downtown. That is not something that Seattle Subway is making up, it is what Sound Transit has said.

      • Ah yes, the anonymous report of how the tunnel went from 2 minutes to 4 minutes between trains, by another ‘unnamed source’. Please provide a reference report for your statement or it goes in the trash bin with all the other garbage.

  10. Yes, by all means let’s encourage air travel by thousands of people to our centrally located city. It’s just the boost that anthropogenic climate change needs, and should cement our reputation as forward-thinking, progressive environmentalists.

    • Mathmatically, it doesn’t matter if the convention site is central, or peripheral, as long as it is within the sphere of attendees.

      A New Yorker and a Seattlite conventioning here will travel 6000 miles total (the New Yorkers round trip). Same two people go to Kansas City, and they will both travel half the distance the New Yorker did, but combine for the same distance.

      Ideally, the location would be anywhere there are likely to be many attendees which often, in this country, means one coast or the other.

  11. I am all in favor of assisting businesses and aiding the tourism industry save for the fact that the downtown core is going to HAVE to be better policed if we are going to encourage even larger groups of people to visit here. I walked (mid-day) downtown the other day and the street people doing drugs around the 3rd/Pike area was disheartening (especially when they congregate in large groups), to say the least. People who attend gatherings at the Convention Center will want to visit Pike Place Market and unfortunately, the 3rd and Pike area is smack dab in the middle of that walk. This is a constant problem and something really, really needs to be done.

    • To be fair, they were probably closer to 3rd and Pine. And there’s a reason it used to be called “The Needle” (maybe still is).

      Pike itself is, mostly, tame if you’re walking from WSCC down to the market. Not even sure there’s much apple-picking any more.

      • You can be as “fair” as you like by attempting to place the drug users one street over, sweetie. It was 3rd and PIKE.

  12. A lid for I-5 would be perfect, only if a park is put on top, for a little green space oasis, and it would make it easier to walk between the current convention site and the proposed one, that should be a concern, for now one would have to walk a block on the street…perhaps it will be easier after Sound Transit concludes the staging area for light rail? Oh, and somebody should tell the convention center people that they used an old photo as the basis for their rendering, the perspective seems a little off from the Pike/Boren side of the equation, and the Premier building across from the Paramount isn’t in the picture…I actually support the project…Denver did something similar, what 15 years ago?

  13. Why not a park-lid on I-5 between Pike/Pine. Providing much needed open space and a pleasing environment for the convention center guests…

  14. Pingback: A parking plan to keep old Honda dealership active until Convention Center expansion | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  15. Pingback: Across ‘the I-5 canyon’ from Capitol Hill, Convention Center expansion plans take shape | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  16. First, someone should research convention center expansion at other cities, and see if the cost really does increase tourism dollars. What’s the hotel vacancy rate now? Where is the $1 Billion coming from? Is there enough hotel tax revenue being generated to cover the debt financing?

    This addition DOUBLES the exhibition floor space, although across two separate floors.
    WOW… Omaha has almost as much floor space as Seattle!

    Having read the LMN proposal, I have one suggestion:
    Build a platform over the interstate, over that big empty hole next to the Paramount.
    Place all of the meeting rooms and ballrooms on top of that platform, which will have lighter loads than the exhibition floors.

    Connect all three buildings together.

    This allows both the new and old buildings to use that space, and to connect all three buildings into one. Alternate floors with ballrooms and meeting rooms, so that functions don’t intrude upon each other at night. Each two-level set of ballroom and meeting rooms matches the one floor of each exhibition hall.

    This middle building could also house ground-floor retail, as well as a food court on the second level.

    On the OBP9 block is placed a building with THREE exhibition floors of 150K sqft each, plus parking. The separate floors allow for simultaneous or overlapping separate conventions . Total exhibition space: 650K, which brings it in line with most other metropolitan cities. Except that it’s vertical, like Toronto and Hong Kong, making it easier for attendees to navigate.

    (Could a hotel or office space be placed on top of that block?)

    Those two towers should also be massed as much as is allowed. The WSCC can use that revenue as year-round revenue for debt payment.

  17. As for a park over the interstate… you don’t want people to leave the convention center.
    1) Revenue from concessions.
    2) Revenue from advertising. (Inside the exhibition halls, in the hallways via banners, display ads, window clings…)
    3) Weather. (“What? I have to rush through this rainstorm to get to the workshop on customer maximization? $#@%!! Seattle! Why couldn’t they put this show in San Diego?”)

  18. Pingback: Capitol Hill groups make push to shape $1B Convention Center expansion, close I-5 gap | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  19. Stick that greedy paw back in your skinny jeans Capitol Hill, this is funded by bonds for the Convention Center. If you want a lid over I-5, perhaps you should raise a neighborhood improvement bond and have all the people in Capitol Hill pay for it as they are the clear beneficiaries.

  20. I can’t believe were still favoring the private vehicle. We have some many traffic congestion issues in Seattle as it is and now this? We just passed a big transportation package, that increases founds to transit, we need more transit. More people than ever don’t have a car in Seattle and you expect all tourists to rent a car or get a ride from someone? That is not happening. You’re going to ruin Seattle for, so you can make money, how sad. What about bicycle and walking infrastructure. I can visualize plenty of pedestrian access, plenty of uuuuuu shaped bike racks and surface street transit. Lets make this a 21st century transportation options, not 20th century were the private vehicle ruled the road.

    • It’s a crime that a perfectly good mass transit station will be demolished to make way for more conventioneers. Light rail lines branch out from the mainline through downtowns all over the world, but Sound Transit and Metro refused to even consider this option. A branch line could have started at the current Convention Station and went out Terry to Triangle Park to serve South Lake Union expansion, then Lower Queen Anne to Ballard along the same route and profile the failed monorail project would have taken.
      Think how much more useful the new Convention Center would have been with a mass transit station in the basement level. But NO, it’s one or the other for our elected leaders and the head bobbing minions they hire.
      The downtown tunnel was designed for trains as closely spaced as 2 minutes apart. The new segment to University is limited to a train every 4 minutes. OK, everyone raise their hands that can now think of something useful to do with the other 50% of the dead time.
      I’ll wait, as I have since 1995 when first proposed, and ever since.