The Urbanist Board of Directors has submitted a letter to the Seattle Department of Transportation endorsing several neighborhood organizations’ public benefit requests for the Convention Center Addition. The project would redevelop the entire site at Convention Place Station in Downtown Seattle as well as two isolated blocks to the north side of the site. Importantly, the Addition project is proposing five street and alley vacations in order to construct an 11-story convention center (1.4 million square feet) and two highrise towers.

Under City Council Resolution 30702, petitioners for street vacations must in return propose a public benefit package equal to the value of the vacations. The Convention Center’s development proposal also contains a request to develop the site under the Planned Community Development process, which allows the project to be built in phases. Both processes must include improvements that benefit the public realm and can include pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, public spaces, landscaping, lighting, City parks, and low-income housing along with in-lieu fees.

Therefore, we believe that it’s vitally important for the City of Seattle to require the Convention Center Addition to provide enhanced public benefits. The following is how we think that the proposal should offer them:

The Urbanist is excited to support the Addition to the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC). The project will undoubtedly enhance the quality of life in Downtown and spur economic development citywide. However, the scale of the project ($1.4 billion) and its unprecedented petition for five street vacations (Clerk File 314338) merits a strong public benefit package that supports a variety of community interests. Seattle City Council Resolution 30702 provides for the use off-site public benefits and in-lieu mitigations that should be used to full effect.

We hereby endorse the public benefit requests of the following organizations:

Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council: Funding the extension of Plymouth Pillars Park at the eastern corner of the Boren Avenue and Pine Street intersection, funding a comprehensive consultant study of lidding Interstate 5 between Pike Street and Olive Way, and ensuring the WSCC Addition is designed to be a civic landmark in keeping with its program, location, and cost.

Capitol Hill Housing: Funding low-income housing near the WSCC Addition site and studying the lidding of Interstate 5 to provide space for parks, jobs, and housing.

First Hill Improvement Association: Funding the Terry Avenue green street/woonerf, an open space and pedestrian project identified in the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan.

Capitol Hill Community Council, Central Seattle Greenways, and Melrose Promenade: Funding physical safety improvements to Olive Way, including rechannelization of the Interstate 5 ramps and the intersections with Melrose Avenue and Bellevue Avenue.

Freeway Park Association: Funding safety and accessibility upgrades to park entrances, new wayfinding infrastructure, and improved pedestrian-scale lighting.

This collection of projects will greatly transform the Center City for the better and improve local quality of life for a diverse array of people. We look forward to seeing these items as part of the public benefit package. Thank you for the opportunity to provide comment.

The Urbanist Board of Directors
Owen Pickford
Stephen Fesler
Ben Crowther
Sarah Oberklaid
Scott Bonjukian

Our full letter and the referenced public benefit requests can be viewed below:

6 COMMENTS

  1. All of these goals could be achieved (and many could be better achieved) by building something other than more convention center space. The current convention center is a blight on downtown Seattle, detracts from the quality of life downtown, and attendance has not increased since before the last major expansion in 2001. Expanded convention center = more (enormous) mostly empty buildings in downtown Seattle. Without Seattle’s very high hotel tax, the WSCC would be losing over $20 million every year, and a large chunk of their expenses go to payments on municipal bonds from the last expansion. While I generally enjoy reading the Urbanist, the editorial board should look a bit more closely at the WSCC’s annual reports rather than just the glossy renderings.

    • You bring up some good points, and we know that convention centers are similar to sports stadiums and Olympics bids in that they have dubious economic justification. However we are not taking a simple position of supporting the project itself or not – that requires a bit more research and is certainly worth a series of articles. Our endorsement simply supports other community groups who figure that if the project is going to happen we might as well get some physical benefits along with it.

      • If you are not taking a simple position of support and have questions about the economic justification, maybe don’t start your letter with: “The Urbanist is excited to support the Addition to the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC). The project will undoubtedly enhance the quality of life in Downtown and spur economic development citywide.” The community group ideas are great, but there are many different ways their goals can be achieved, many of which would not include $1.4 billion of public debt for a mostly empty building.

        • David – Thanks for your comments. As Scott notes, this isn’t a simple endorsement of the project. It appears that you may be missing the context of our letter. The project hasn’t been approved as of yet and there will likely be revisions to it. We want to ensure that the public is best served by whatever future approval may come, especially since it proposes to take away a substantial amount of public property in the process.

          The question before us isn’t whether or not the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) and its associated projects (the office and residential high-rises) should be built. The question before us is in what manner should it be built.

          The debate on the economic value of a convention center is completely reasonable to have, and we aren’t taking sides on that. But I would say it’s important to understand that in the context of the project proposal: Debt for the project will not be born by the public or the City. The WSCC is its own public entity like the Port of Seattle.

          The proposal will also bring vitality to the area in a way that is severely lacking today. Anyone who walks by knows that the pedestrian experience is very poor. The reasons for that range from highway noise and concrete craters to nothing of visual interest nor opportunity for activity. The project will greatly improve that. And it will partially do that beyond infilling the sites. For instance, it will deliver hundreds of new housing units and many more jobs, including non-convention center employment through office and retail. Together, those changes to the district will arguably be good. Those aren’t inconsequential things.

          Are there other things that could be built on the sites? Absolutely. Could they be better? It’s quite possible. But the owner/applicant is the WSCC. So short of anything changing in that regard, any alternative future for the sites are just conjecture and admittedly a fun thought exercise.

          In any case, we’re fundamentally arguing for a better public benefits package and hopefully others will, too.

          If you think there are issues with the project that should be further vetted and addressed or wish to share a case for a different use of the properties, we’d be happy to hear about that at a meetup (we have one Tuesday evening) or share your thoughts in an article on the blog.

          Thanks again!

  2. Is there any way provisions could be made for a future light rail station at convention place under Pine Street where trains laid over until ULink opened? I understand this is a flat section of track. It would however require the new convention center to accommodate the westbound platform and access from Street. The eastbound platform and street access would need to be on that staging area and vent shaft site next to the Paramount Theater. It just seems a shame to lose this transit station right at the time this Denny Triangle area is exploding with growth. Plus with the new convention center and potential cap as remediation/public benefits package it would better stitch the freeway crossing together and make the station more useful to Capitol Hill.

    I love the idea of capping the freeway in this stretch but I’d rather most of it be capped with buildings with active ground floors so that you’d never know you were walking over a freeway. There’s some good examples of this including the Columbus Cap in Columbus Ohio and a two sided main street retail bridge at Kew Gardens LIRR station in Queens. I just think any park space here will be undesirable due to the freeway and just be a dead space drawing negative activity. Let’s have our parks be in great places not leftover poor spaces.

    • I don’t think that there would be any technical limitation for a stop at the PSST location … would all depend on the actual space to the south of Pine St for the NB platform. Of course ST likes to dramatically overbuild their stations … but something simple shouldn’t be too much trouble.

      all the geo-technical prep work and design work for both platforms would have to be designed now as part of the WSCC Expansion … and I have no idea what the implications would be on Link service when Pine St is dug up for the platforms …

      of course funding would be … all of the infill stations identified in Move Seattle and ST3 aren’t scheduled to be built for 20 years …

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