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A December push to make I-5 lid plan a ‘public benefit’ from $1.6B convention center expansion

The next big step in the Washington State Convention Center’s downtown expansion plan is a discussion of public benefits of the massive project. The meeting is set for December 7th, and Lid I-5, the community group looking to secure funding for a plan to better connect Capitol Hill to downtown, will be there.

“It’s important not only to our group, but also to the surrounding community,” said John Feit of Lid I-5.

As part of the now $1.6 billion expansion plan, the convention center is asking for the city to hand over three alleys, and the land under two existing streets, Olive Way and Terry Avenue. In exchange for these publicly-owned areas, the center essentially has to pay for them.

In most cases like this, the payment is not in cash, but in some form of public benefit, such as a new public space that meets the value of the public area the developer takes over and adds new resources or features for the city. The exact value of the areas has yet to be announced, but Lid I-5, among a number of other groups, is jockeying for a chance at some of the expected funding.

WSCC Public Benefits Open House

You can also provide your feedback via email — [email protected]

While citizen groups like Lid I-5 will be discussing their ideas, the Convention Center itself is also slated to make its own proposal for public benefits.

For about a year, Lid I-5 has been arguing that the freeway is destined, some day, to be redesigned. As part of that redesign, they suggest covering the freeway – basically turning it into a tunnel. What might go on top is unclear. The group held a design charrette (basically a brainstorming session) to propose ideas for the Lid and what might go on it.

Ideas varied greatly from schools to affordable housing to parks, and most suggested re-connecting the street grid across the freeway at least in some places. If it all seems too far fetched, remember a 2007 design charrette was the genesis for the community agreement that has shaped development planned for the area around Capitol Hill Station. In spring 2018, developer Gerding Edlen is slated to break ground on the 100,000-square-foot commercial, affordable + market-rate housing, and community space project.

The big problem with ideas from the charrette is that no one knows if they would actually be possible or cost effective. Figuring out that sort of thing is what Lid I-5 is looking for, Feit said.

They don’t expect the convention center to pay for the lid, since that’s a project that would run, at least, into the hundreds of millions of dollars. But the group wants to consider the possibilities.

“Our hope is a kind of rigorous feasibility study,” he said.

For example, it’s one thing to say, let’s build affordable housing on the site. But the study will answer the question of how that might work – how strong the lid would need to be to accommodate the weight of the building, and if it would be possible to make the economics work. Additionally, it could get into practical concerns like, without the use of underground space, where would sewage lines go, or parking structures?

Lid I-5 envisions that the lid would come into play in a decade or two, once the state is ready to rebuild the highway, something that will likely have to happen eventually. Of course, there are also other options

Remove I-5

If a lid study is completed, then Feit said, the state would have an idea of what Seattle might want from the project, and be better able to design it all at once.

“Our preference is they don’t do the highway first and then design the lid, but look at it all together,” he said.

Feit expects the study would cost about $1 million, which he guesses would be about 10% of the amount the convention center might need to provide the public.

The December 7 meeting will allow Lid I-5, and a number of other groups, to advocate for their positions about how to spend the money. It will also be a chance for members of the public to review the suggestions. There should be some way of allowing the public to advocate for or against any of the ideas, or to suggest their own. After the meeting, city officials will gather the ideas, synthesize them and, likely early next year, present them to the Seattle Design Commission. The commission will make its overall recommendation for the project, including the public benefit portion of it, to the City Council. The project will then go through the council’s process before it makes a decision.

The estimated $1.6 billion Convention Center project could begin next year, and is slated to be finished by 2020. The proposal calls for adding five stories above ground and two stories below ground totaling a little more than 1.2 million square feet of space, in addition to a 200,000 square foot loading dock and 500-800 parking spaces. Most of the construction will go on what is now the King County Metro Convention Place Station, roughly bounded by Pine and Howell streets and 9th and Boren avenues.

The open house discussing public benefits is from 5-7 p.m. December 7 at the Convention Center room 2AB.

A summary of Lid I-5’s design charrette is below. You can view the full document here (PDF). You can also provide your feedback via email — [email protected] or contact the Lid I-5 group for more information at

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6 years ago

Thanks for covering this. It’s a very long term effort but it clearly will be a big part of the future of Capitol Hill and beyond.