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New I-5 lid could be a ‘public benefit’ of convention center expansion

See? We already have one (Image: City of Seattle)

See? We already have one (Image: City of Seattle)

If you thought CHS was sensationalizing the connection between the $1.4 billion plan to expand the Washington State Convention Center and the fantastical schemes to build a lid over I-5 to connect Capitol Hill to downtown and South Lake Union, you may have been correct. But a little Capitol Hill bias hasn’t stopped City of Seattle officials from beginning to look at the I-5 lid as a real opportunity.

“This concept is a continuation of our city history,” City Council transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen said during a pre-Thanksgiving session to discuss early planning for the project. “Ever since I-5 was first planned in the 1950s, people were very concerned about what I-5 would do to downtown Seattle, cutting off neighborhoods, basically obliterating parts of the International District.”

It’s not just Rasmussen saying something nice for the Capitol Hill constituency as he prepares to leave the council. Sally Bagshaw, who will lead downtown’s District 7 starting in 2016, said at the committee meeting she is prepared to help push for the creation of the important “connector” and is looking for a community organization to take the lead like Allied Arts did for the Seattle Waterfront project.

The most likely community leader at this point is the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council that has been advocating for better pedestrian connections as part of the planning of the downtown convention center expansion. “CM Bagshaw was a leader in Allied Arts’s efforts. The lid would be in CM Baghsaw’s district, and she will be a strong voice for us moving forward — but we must lead the effort,” a PPUNC update following last week’s meeting read.

PPUNC may also have some across-I-5 allies. The group said it was hoping to coordinate with the Downtown Seattle Association and representatives for the landmark-protected Paramount Theater to push for a better pedestrian connection along Pine and over I-5.

During the council briefing, city planners said the convention center expansion’s “public benefits” negotiations could be key to including a new I-5 lid in the project powered by the WSCC’s bonding authority.

Due to its size and complexity in the middle of downtown Seattle, the expansion project qualifies for a unique process called Planned Community Development that helps coordinate and streamline the busy schedule of reviews and public oversight of the convention center development.Seattle’s PCD efforts are rare. The most recent example came as Amazon planned its massive wave of development. An important part of the process is determining what public benefits the massive project needs to provide to the surrounding communities. According to the city, public benefits can include low-income housing, historic preservation, and public space.  Or, perhaps, a new lid over I-5.

Rasmussen said I-5 was designed to incorporate lids. You can see for yourself today. Freeway Park was completed in 1976 and paid for using the same bonds eventually used to pay for the convention center’s construction in the 1980s.

While the five-acre Freeway Park is likely closer in scale to what city officials are currently talking about when it comes to a new I-5 lid, the grand vision from architect Christopher Patano for a 45-acre development that includes a hotel and sports arena can represent the stretch goal.

At the conclusion of last week’s meeting, the lame duck Rasmussen asked for “periodic briefings” on the public benefits discussion around the convention center expansion. “This is something that we can’t just let pass by,” he said.

The WSCC hopes to begin construction by 2017.

The plan from Patano Associates is a little bigger than Freeway Park -- about 40 acres bigger

The plan from Patano Associates is a little bigger than Freeway Park — about 40 acres bigger


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