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‘Community Package’ including affordable housing, park cash gets support in Convention Center expansion hearing

Council member Mike O’Brien (right) views a model of the planned convention center expansion (Image: CHS)

Fine tuning some $83 million in public benefits — and how quickly the cash to pay for them will be delivered — was the theme of the night as neighborhood, transit, and public space advocates came to City Hall Wednesday.

“The sooner we can get more money for affordable housing the better,” said Seattle City Council sustainability and transportation committee chair Mike O’Brien.

Wednesday’s hearing featured mostly speakers in support of the Community Package Coalition formed to create a shared platform of community priorities for a roster of public benefits to be exchanged for the vacation of “Block 33, Block 43, Block 44, Olive Way & Terry Avenue.” The city land is planned to be part of the construction of the estimated $1.6 billion Washington State Convention Center addition and development that will create a massive new exhibition facility across I-5 between Pike and Olive Way.

“Equity and equitable outcomes should be at the forefront of discussions around large real estate projects such as this one,” said McCaela Daffern from Capitol Hill Housing. “I ask that you make note of the significant contributions toward affordable housing secured thanks to advocacy of Capitol Hill housing and the rest of the coalition.”

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Riisa Conklin urged the council members to pass the benefits package with emphasis on Freeway Park. The executive director of the Freeway Park Association set the stage for a park that is $10 million short of reaching its full potential, the amount offered by the convention center developers. “At 5.2 acres freeway park is many things: It’s an arboretum, a series of sunny plazas for big and small gatherings; it’s historic landscape and it’s a thoroughfare across I-5 that reconnects Capitol Hill and First Hill to Downtown,” Conklin said, “but this park needs critical renovations to its aging infrastructure as well as modern amenities such as way finding and public restrooms to make it an accessible public space for our growing city and our growing number of visitors.”

“We urge you to consider requiring some additional public benefits in return for the proposed alleyway vacations because as transit riders we are very concerned about the traffic and mobility impacts that this project will have,” a representative for the Transit Riders Union said. “We hope that the project can be coordinated with other downtown events to minimize the traffic disruption during the period of maximum constraint so that the busses do not have to come out of the tunnel earlier than necessary. As a publicly funded project we think that the convention center should meet FHA standards for affordable housing and finally we would like to request that the new convention center be required to provide free or low cost meeting space for community groups and non profits,” she said.

The package includes updates and investments to the cityscape from downtown to Capitol Hill including $29 million toward affordable housing and $1.5 million for research of a lid on the I-5 freeway near downtown. Initially developer Pine Street Group proposed a far lower amount of capital investments but community stake holders negotiated a larger package. The benefits coalition represented community groups and nonprofits including the First Hill Improvement Association, Lid I-5, Capitol Hill Housing, Cascade Bicycle Club, Central Seattle Greenways, Housing Development Consortium, Freeway Park Association, and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.

During Wednesday’s hour-long hearing, 25 commenters shared their support of the project. O’Brien and City Council member Sally Bagshaw listened to the comments and assured the gallery that their comments would be included in the upcoming May 1st committee meeting. The developer has planned a series of three phases over ten years after the start of construction under which the $82.8 million package will be funded, and many aspects of which would hinge on state funding at the legislative level. The process will conclude by mid-May if the full City Council votes to approve the improvement package and development proposal from developer the Pine Street Group.

O’Brien has also renewed a push for protected bike lanes connecting downtown to Broadway that would be paid for with package funding. The proposed public benefits package includes millions for the Pike and Pine lanes that would connect to “the existing bike lanes on Broadway and 2nd” and form “the spine of an all ages and abilities bicycle network.”

The WSCC expansion will add 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. Bringing thousands of truck trips to the area, most of the construction will rise above the land that has been home to King County Metro Convention Place Station, roughly bounded by Pine and Howell streets and 9th and Boren.

Summary of Proposed WSCC Addition Public Benefits and Investments
Item $ MM
Community Package Projects
Freeway Park Improvements $10.0
Lid I-5 Study $1.5
Pike-Pine Bicycle Improvements $10.0
Olive Way Pedestrian Improvements $0.5
8th Ave Bicycle Improvements $6.0
Terry Ave Promenade $4.0
Affordable Housing $29.0
Subtotal $61.0
Other Public Benefits (current estimate)
Pike-Pine Renaissance Pedestrian Improvements $10.0
9th Avenue Pedestrian Improvements $0.6
Public Art $1.9
Historic Building Lighting $1.0
On-Site Features $8.1
Improvements to Olive Way $0.2
Subtotal                                                                              $82.8
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One thought on “‘Community Package’ including affordable housing, park cash gets support in Convention Center expansion hearing

  1. I lived at Pine+Minor (that orange apt building between the Roastery and I-5) facing this construction site and every time I see plans for the convention center I’m so, *so* thankful that I moved away.