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What the Convention Center expansion will look like: Denny Triangle Integration + 9th Ave Mixing Zone + Pine Street Gallery + Boren Ave Beacon


UPDATE 7/23/2015: The board has asked developers to come back with a new proposal and requiring a third early design guidance session. The meeting for the next review has not yet been scheduled.

Original report: With Capitol Hill community groups saying the massive project needs to do more to help connect the neighborhood with downtown, developers and architects working on the 1.2 million square-foot expansion of the Washington State Convention Center just across I-5 from Pike/Pine return to the design review board Tuesday night with a fleshed-out plan for the project that includes designs for a “9th Avenue Mixing Zone,” a “Pine Street Gallery,” and a “Boren Beacon” as well as the start of planning for “codevelopment” to create a 30-story apartment tower and a 16-story office building near the site.

“The Expansion of the Washington State Convention Center represents a transformative opportunity to define the next evolution of this building type,” the design packet for Tuesday’s review reads. “By creating an open, welcoming facility, scaled to respond to a variety of neighborhoods, with spaces that are c activated and encourage engagement between the event and the city, this project can reimagine the ‘Seattle Experience’ to create a meaningful, authentic and lasting impression for delegates and visitors.”

1600 9th Ave
Design Review Early Design Guidance application proposing a 5 level exhibition and meeting room facility, with retail at grade, 800 parking spaces and associated loading docks within the structure. (Washington State Convention Center Expansion). Includes associated MUP 3020177, 1711 Boren Ave — View Design Proposal  (49 MB)    

Review Meeting: July 21, 2015 5:30 pm, City Hall Room / 600 5th Ave / Bertha Landes Conference Room
Review Phase: EDG–Early Design Guidance
Project Number
Planner: Garry Papers

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

Following the project’s first pass through the design review process in May, CHS reported on efforts by Capitol Hill community groups to shape the project by pushing for a better connection between Pike/Pine and downtown. The Seattle Design Commission also weighed in with street by street criticisms of where the project’s initial design proposal fell 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 planned development with a price tag that has swelled to $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. 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. 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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.21.39 PMTuesday, updated designs from LMN Architects will further define what the expanded Convention Center will look like and how it will fit into the streetscape connections along Olive Way and Pine.

The new proposal breaks the project into four components:DENNY TRIANGLE NEIGHBORHOOD INTEGRATION

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.21.10 PM

“The proposed concept for Olive Way and Howell Street to reinforced the pattern of the city fabric, providing an interesting pedestrian thoroughfare, while also recognizing their necessary role as a vehicular connection to I-5 and Capitol Hill,” the architects write. “Both Olive Way and Howell Street are the primary routes of truck egress from the convention center loading dock. Regular street-scape rhythm and planting areas serve to reinforce connections to the surrounding neighborhood and provide the pedestrians comfort from the busy street.” Retail in this section is envisioned as a mercantile shop that would provide service to he Denny Triangle neighborhood the north.

As part of the design reviews, WSCC developers 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:

The third and preferred option internalizes and expresses the urban grid shift distinctly through a collection of interlocking vertical and horizontal forms. The commercial tower is further slenderized through the use of additional carving and elongation. The residential podium pulls back to create more open space along 9th Avenue. The language of interlocking volumes unifies the residential and commercial program to create a cohesive gateway shifted to orient the public to the primary entry of the convention center. The resultant massing integrates both towers and podiums into one collective gesture.

WSCC plans to sell the codevelopment properties to help fund the convention center expansion.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 3.28.23 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.21.20 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 3.28.48 PMThe developers are positioning the 9th Ave design as a new public benefit that will be created by the convention project.

“9th Avenue is envisioned as the grand mixing zone for the project, where the city and the building program overlap, blurring the edges of the site,” the write. “9th Avenue also has the opportunity to become an urban promenade and significant new public space linking existing and new WSCC facilities.”

Retail in the section of the development is described as a market hall with spaces for small, flexible shops “to reinforce the connection between Melrose Market on Capitol Hill and Pike Place Market at the waterfront.” There is also a commercial component being planned as a “maker space” type facility.


Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.21.26 PM

The developers are pitching the Pine Street Gallery portion of the project as a continuation of Pike/Pine’s small retail and food and drink environment. “The new WSCC Addition will play a key role in connecting Capitol Hill and Downtown,” they write. “The street experience along the project will maximize variation and relief, navigating the topography for a rich and compelling pedestrian experience offering a smaller scale texture of planting, seating, and access to walk-up retail spaces layered with lobby spaces and terraces above. This character will maximize the feeling of being within a city street, while minimizing the edge of the freeway.”

One area of the retail component is being planned as a possible distillery or roastery-type facility similar to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery on Melrose.

The proposal does not address what will happen with the public art elements currently part of the Metro facility along Pine.


Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.21.30 PM

The review packet describes the future corner of Boren and Pine as “a beacon retail space” creating “an additional anchor and waypoint visible from across the freeway in Capitol Hill.”

The updated proposal doesn’t directly address public comments at the May review and letters supporting a more aggressive approach to lidding the “I-5 ditch” but the project would, the developers say, form a “short but iconic bridge experience over Interstate-5.” Matt Griffin of the Pine Street Group told CHS following the project’s May review that while there are no plans for a lid, the developers are working with WSDOT to build to the edge of the freeway to fill in as much of the gap as possible.

While they don’t plan to lid I-5, the project’s developers believe the new convention center wing will help bring the neighborhoods closer together.

“There has always been a discussion about how to connect Capitol Hill to downtown — the great news is it’s starting to happen,” Griffin said.

UPDATE 2:20 PM: The Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council community group has weighed in on the latest proposal and is calling for more design work to be done before the plan is approved by the review board.

“Aside from a series of vainglorious gestures along 9th Avenue, this is a large box with perfunctory spaces scattered along its perimeter that fall far short in fostering the kind of active civic life essential for this development; its current form, massing, and programmatic arrangement will make it challenging for this building to be the civic icon it should be,” the group’s chair and frequent CHS contributor John Feit writes. PPUNC is calling on the board to require another round of design review for the expansion and for the Seattle Design Commission to be brought into the process.

The full PPUNC letter is below.

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34 thoughts on “What the Convention Center expansion will look like: Denny Triangle Integration + 9th Ave Mixing Zone + Pine Street Gallery + Boren Ave Beacon

    • Noone is going to “lid” I-5. Doing that destroys future maintenance and expansion options. Pipe dream…….no pun intended

      • There will be no future expansion of I-5. Neither the city or the state has any intention of expanding vehicular transit routes…honestly.

  1. Great, let’s bring hundreds more cars into downtown and close a transit station. That sounds compatible with responsible future-oriented urban development. We need fewer cars in the city, not more. We need more transit, more pedestrianism, not less. Maybe if Americans got out of their SUVs and walked they might not be so fat.

  2. This is more of the same from the Washington State Convention Center: destroy the network of streets and alleys by creating a massive building that Seattle residents will rarely ever enter, but will constantly have walk three extra blocks to avoid.

    Any bets on the chain restaurant that will inevitably take the “beacon” retail spot? Chili’s? P.F. Chang’s? or maybe a second Cheesecake Factory?

    • Oh, it’ll be so awful having the ability to bid on even larger conventions that provide economic benefits to Seattle through increased spend at hotels, restaurants and various attractions.

      You sound like a small town rube with your attitude.

  3. Better design than the last pass, but I took a glance through the 126 page design proposal and there still is something I don’t get. There doesn’t appear to be any way that these two Convention Centers (CC) are connected. This may very well mean MORE conventions, but not bigger ones. Larger conventions will go to larger venues rather than subject their convention attendees to the vagaries of traffic, weather and the inconvenience of navigating a strange city.

    This leads to the question, why build it here? A second CC could easily go in Renton, Spokane, Everett or Walla Walla. It is a State CC after all, not a City CC. I’m definitely not a NIMBY, but I don’t understand why one would expand a Convention Center where it isn’t an expansion, it is separate.

    • I have wondered about the same thing. It seems like poor planning to me. You would think they would at least include some kind of tunnel (not a bridge!) between the two facilities.

    • I’m not so sure of that. First off, there are only just so many huge conventions. Being able to respond to more smaller conventions avoids having to take a pass on a lot of business that would otherwise be left on the table. Also, for a huge convention group, it’s not necessarily the case that all the meetings need to be in the same building or even connected buildings. People that attend big events like this are used to functions happening in another building. And to be fair, the buildings are not THAT far apart from each other.

      • It’s true, one of the biggest obstacles to convention bids is that we don’t have the space/room nights to host really large ones, or two medium sized ones simultaneously.

        I can’t believe there are people (wait, no I can, it’s Capitol Hill Blog where there’s some crank with an uninformed opinion about business) that think it should go in Renton.

        JayH, do you understand hotel room inventory and location as part of the bidding process?

      • I certainly do. I also understand that hotel and other infrastructure would be built to accommodate a convention center in a new location I also understand that if there are multiple smaller conventions there is no reason why they can’t go to different locations. I also understand that I, who have in the past booked large meetings, won’t book a site where not everyone will fit. If the Convention Center is looking for large conventions, they ain’t gonna get ’em. Smaller conventions? Yeah, most likely they will get more. Maybe even enough to justify the expense of building in the most expensive area in the State.

      • Sure, they could build a bunch of nice new hotels to accomadate a new CC in Renton or somewhere else, but that’s a couple hundred million tacked on to the price tag. Seattle already has those hotels built, so there’s no question that it can meet the demand. Renton doesn’t have light rail running directly from the airport to the location in question. Seattle does.

  4. Instead of 800 parking stalls they should beef up parking at light rail stations and require attendees to take light rail in.

    I also don’t see how a massive hulking wall will bridge the two neighborhoods. We already have sidewalks so the neighborhoods are connected. This mass which will have little use by locals will actually visually disconnect them.

    • We probably shouldn’t treat light rail stations as park ‘n rides, because it displaces the (so to speak) live ‘n ride use that we *dearly hope* will reduce traffic-per-person.

      Boy, do I agree about the massive hulking wall, though — their flapdoodle about ” “a beacon retail space” creating “an additional anchor and waypoint visible from across the freeway in Capitol Hill.”” makes me want to spit. A spotlit ad space to finish blocking the public view of Pike Place Market and the mountains we used to have: there’s privatization.

  5. Looks great! This is a much better use of that land than the parking lots and soon-to-be-derelict bus tunnel station. (The bus tunnel will eventually become a light rail only tunnel.) Eight hundred parking spaces represent a small fraction of the people who will come to a convention, particularly out-of-town visitors who’ll take light rail or taxis to their hotel.

  6. Eight hundred parking spots seems like a poor choice. For larger conventions, attendees will be scrambling for spots, pushing many out into street and parking garages. Traffic will be (more) horrendous. Instead, we should be promoting light rail from the airport to downtown. I’m shocked at the number of visitors who don’t take light rail. If you’re traveling light for a weekend conference and staying downtown, it seems much more logical. What if the convention center gave every conference attendee a $10 ORCA card? We need our transit to be easy to use for out of towners in addition to locals. There should be a 200 space parking lot with at least 50% reserved for convention center employees. Attendees should have to pay for parking there and all others can carpool/zipcar/car2go/bus/taxi/uber/walk/bike to the center.

    • It’s because getting to the station at the airport and then downtown isn’t nearly as time convenient.

      Most larger conventions that are local trade shows like the Flower Garden show are more than capable of holding all the traffic.

      Most larger conventions that are out of town associations don’t have people renting cars to attend them.

      • Yes, the airport light rail station is quite a hike to/from the airport proper…..not a problem for the reasonably healthy, but it is a deterrent for older people and those with mobility problems. Also, the Port of Seattle could do a better job with signage…many people arriving in Seattle, especially for the first time, are just not aware of the light rail option.

    • I love the idea of a “little Orca” card for visitors, although that could get very expensive. … It seems a waste of an opportunity not to have the new Convention Center integrated with the light rail stop.

  7. I can’t make it to the meeting tonight but someone (or a lot of people, ideally) should ask about the signage plans. What types of signage are envisioned? Are they going to plaster this thing with moving, large digital signage? What will the effect be on the neighborhood at night, close-up and from afar? These renderings look all pristine and pretty but by the time the rubber hits the road we might be surprised and not necessarily delighted.

    • If the current convention center is any indication of the end product, the neighborhood is going to be REALLY disappointed.

  8. Honest question. Does the convention center make money? I thought for most of it’s history it’s been a money loser. Does anybody have any verifiable numbers?

    • Great question. Accounting is so much fun. It depends upon what one means by making money. The last I saw the convention center was able to meet operating expenses. Does that mean they can pay back construction costs? Not really. There’s still a pretty big subsidy. Hotel tax? I forget.

  9. Totally agree with the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council’s response letter. It’s just another big box with little in the way of interest for the pedestrian. As presented, this a weak, unimaginative design and a wasted opportunity.

  10. Convention buildings are going to be big boxes. I wish they would add more of a nod to the unique Brutalist architecture of the existing centre, so it at least has some grounding.

    Loss of the most confusing bus station ever made: meh. Once the tunnel goes all-train, it will be a non-issue. Adding hundreds of parking spaces to that area: the gridlock is already entertainingly awful, at this point, it will become an exercise in promoting the light rail The Hard Way ™.

    I can see why lidding the freeway is a hard sell, but I wish they would at least widen the Olive/Pine/Pike bridges by a few feet on either side and add trees or awnings. Crossing I-5 is deafening and smelly and, during the summer, an instant sunburn. The promised tress on Boren will be nice.

    Losing that little strip of Terry Ave: meh, it is barely used. What I am far more concerned about is how much they plan to close the sidewalks in that area during construction.

  11. Maybe soon the Convention Center will swallow up all of downtown. These convention centers across the country are all chasing after the few really big conventions hoping to get those to make money. Based on the hotel rates it would appear our hotels are doing just fine now. I wouldn’t be so unhappy about this expansion if it weren’t for the loss of the Convention Place Station and an abysmal street level design proposed as a giant sterile glass box (an architect’s answer to every building design).

  12. The convention center has long been undersized. PAX in September rents out the whole thing and every available hotel space within a few blocks, and they still are desperately in need of more space.