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Capitol Hill groups make push to shape $1B Convention Center expansion, close I-5 gap

(Images: LMN Architects)

(Images: LMN Architects)

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

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

The early reviews of the $1 billion plan to create a five-story expansion of the Washington State Convention Center along Pine — and, many hope, better bridge the “I-5 canyon” separating Capitol Hill from downtown — haven’t quite lived up to the price tag.

“Most of us aren’t visiting the Convention Center — we’re just walking by,” area resident Sage Kitamorn told the board as it convened its first review of the project’s design proposals last month. The “frequent pedestrian” asked the design review board to hold the Convention Center developers to creating “something great here and fill in the void.”

The hope went unmet in the first round of the process, according to Capitol Hill community groups and more august bodies like the Seattle Design Commission.

Friday night, a Capitol Hill-centered push to improve the project will begin:

Convention Center Expansion, Public Benefits Discussion
Friday, June 12th 5:30 to 7:00 PM
Gay City Health Project 517 E Pike St, Seattle, Washington 98122
Capitol Hill Community Council and PPUNC ( are hosting a community meeting to discuss the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center, its impacts on the Hill, and what public benefits we should advocate for (such as a lid over I-5!). We need all the help we can get, so if this interests you in the least bit, come join us! If you know someone else who would be interested, please share

CHS wrote here about the massive project and some of the Capitol Hill-driven initiatives being pushed for inclusion as the blocks between the Hill and downtown are reimagined and rebuilt. The proposed structure and two accompanying developments would encompass the 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. The WSCC has already acquired $56.5 million worth of land between 9th and Boren, and Howell and Olive Way that had been home to a car dealership (and will be used as parking in the meantime). In March, the county condemned the last piece of private property needed to be acquired for the expansion. The Convention Center has been “in negotiations” to acquire the transit center land from the county for its expansion.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 9.06.38 AM Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 9.08.59 AMThe 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:

5 stories above grade
2 stories below grade

  • 250,000 SF of Exhibition Space*
  • 120,000 SF of Meeting Space *
  • 70,000 SF of Ballroom Space*
  • 280,000 SF of Lobby & Circulation*
  • 510,000 SF of Support Spaces*
  • 500-800 Parking Stalls*
  • 200,000 SF of Loading Area*
  • Street-Level Retail & Restaurants

“I’ve been involved in a number of big buildings. Do you want it to be this big icon? Or do you want it to fit into this neighborhood?” Matt Griffin of the Pine Street Group told CHS in a discussion in the days following the project’s first review. Griffin’s company is managing the LMN Architects-designed project’s development for the WSCC.

“The work today has all been about making sure the program fits.”

The Capitol Hill development and design-focused community group the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council says the project needs to be more — and also fit. The early plan “lacks the hierarchy, vision, or major goals required for a landmark project and only addresses the low-hanging fruit and obvious needs to repair a poor urban environment,” a letter from the group to the design review board read. You can view the full letter and PPUNC’s specific issues with the project proposal here.

The concerns about the early design proposals aren’t just provincial. The Seattle Design Commission has also weighed in with street by street criticisms of where the project’s design falls short:

The Department of Planning and Development has also received more than a dozen letters about the project, many calling for a better pedestrian experience. The most straightforward request we found in the bunch might be the most difficult to achieve:

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 10.11.14 AM

Lidding I-5 also came up in the public comment at the first early design guidance in May. “I can’t give an easy answer about I-5,” the DPD’s Garry Papers said at one point in the meeting responding to a public comment that called the highway a “scar.”

“My understanding is the Convention Center wanted to build across I-5,” Papers said.

Pine Street Group’s Griffin said that won’t be the case with the expansion but that the Convention Center is “negotiating with WSDOT” to allow the new building “come all the way to Boren and Pine to create something that will help close the gap.”

“There has always been a discussion about how to connect Capitol Hill to downtown — the great news is its’s starting to happen,” Griffin said. “Our team developed Pacific Place — It’s been our interest for more than 20 years now.”

The Convention Center project is scheduled to return for a second early design guidance session in July.

UPDATE: Friday night’s meeting agenda has been posted — here’s a copy (PDF).

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12 thoughts on “Capitol Hill groups make push to shape $1B Convention Center expansion, close I-5 gap

  1. Is a Convention Center enough of a public good to be condemning properties? It’s mostly a moneymaker for hotels/restaurants. WSCC seems like another semi-public entity like the Port that kind of gets to do whatever they want. I wish Metro and Sound Transit got this kind of authority… but I guess there’s nothing in it for business.

  2. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to reconnect downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill as they remain separated by I-5.

    Much about this has been studied. Please check out to learn more.

  3. I-5 should be lidded. The extra space created and connection between downtown and Capitol Hill would be worth the cost…not to mention the overall reduction of noise and air pollution. The highway is indeed a scar on our city.

    • Absolutely agree. Robert Moses destroyed NY in the 1960s and Seattle was naive enough to swallow ‘progress,’ bulldozing homes and gutting its core for I5. Gas should be $5 a gallon to pay for this gross error- the environment is priceless. Americans need to remember what is truly important- our health and the environment. Cap I5 and reap the rewards of a new green space. This is an opportunity not to be missed. We should learn from the mistakes of the past and inspire our children for the future. It will be challenging enough if Shell gets its way every time. Off my soap box now.

  4. The convention center is being partially built on city right of way. It is fully reasonable for us citizens to ask for some kind of public benefit in return. We should all submit comments on the project to this effect to DPD and attend any and all public meetings on the project (e.g. design review board meetings) to make this point. I am certain that if enough of us speak out for this, the city will have to require some form of a lid as a public benefit in this project.

  5. I want active ground floors all along Pine so that the retail and restaurants can be continuous between Capitol Hill and Downtown. Personally I think there’s better places for new parks than over a freeway, places that are actually pleasant to be in.

    It would be nice if they could make the convention center feel less like a monolithic big box with a repetitive façade of cold materials like glass and steel.

  6. The expansion of the convention center belies Seattle’s claims to valuing sustainability; it will result in increased greenhouse gas emissions with more air travel to Seattle.