The Convention Center Should Offer Major Community Investments

Rendering by LMN Architects.

The Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) expansion is a massive undertaking that will reshape four city blocks in Seattle’s urban core. We, a coalition of community organizations serving adjacent neighborhoods, believe the project’s size, central location, public ownership, and extensive request for public right-of-way compels the WSCC to offer an accordingly large-scale public benefit package for our community.

If you agree, sign this petition asking local decision-makers to adopt a Community Package of critical public benefits.

The four neighborhoods that intersect at the Convention Center–Downtown, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, and First Hill–face significant shortages of public open space, active transportation facilities, and affordable housing. Needs for these facilities will grow acutely with the WSCC Addition project, and the WSCC leadership has an opportunity to make significant investments in our community. The WSCC can grow its legacy as a steward for central Seattle by balancing the need for growth and the impacts of that growth by contributing to a more attractive, safe, livable, and affordable city center.

The location, type, and size of the WSCC's proposed street vacations. (LMN Architects)
The location, type, and size of the WSCC’s proposed street vacations. (LMN Architects)

The WSCC has petitioned the City of Seattle for a full vacation of three public alleys in Blocks 33, 43, and 44 totaling 7,665 square feet, and subterranean vacations of Terry Avenue and Olive Way, totaling 47,985 square feet. Seattle City Council Resolution 31142 enables the provision of off-site and in-lieu public benefits in exchange for street and alley vacations which are independent of the development project. The Seattle Design Commission poses the key question: “Has the petitioner proposed a public benefit package that provides the public with amenities that adequately offset the loss of the street or alley being vacated and that are commensurate with the benefits of the scale of development resulting from the vacation?”

The WSCC Addition preferred alternative cost estimate is $1.6 billion and the largest real estate development in Seattle history–more costly than Safeco and CenturyLink Fields combined. It is also approximately triple the cost of the SoDo arena, a similarly large project which has offered $21-25 million worth of public benefits for a single street vacation. Accordingly, we anticipate the WSCC must offer a public benefits package valued in the range of at least $62-73 million.

We propose full adoption of a Community Package which is comparable in scale to the vacation petition. Together, the Community Package components are bold investments in Seattle’s public spaces, transportation network, and affordable housing. These investments are interrelated and are critical to ensuring the area proximate to the Addition remains livable as we welcome the many new visitors, staff, and traffic the project will bring. The Community Package aligns with the Design Commission’s desire for a wide array of benefits which are fully integrated into the surrounding neighborhoods.

The Community Package Benefits Map. Affordable housing within one mile, additional potential I-5 lid study areas, and the I-5 overpasses “kit of parts” are not shown.
The Community Package Benefits Map. Affordable housing within one mile, additional potential I-5 lid study areas, and the I-5 overpasses “kit of parts” are not shown.

Projects funded with this package can be leveraged with additional funding from the street vacation fee, which may be appraised as at least $20 million. Half of the fee proceeds must be dedicated to open space and transportation projects in Seattle, and half may be allocated by the City Council at its discretion. We urge the City Council to maximize the potential of public benefits by combining these distinct funding opportunities.

The Community Package is summarized as follows. Please see the embedded letter below for full details.

The Community Package

Public Parks and Open Spaces

  • Freeway Park Improvements. Improve Freeway Park to be more safe, accessible, and enjoyable for local residents, employees, and Convention Center visitors.
  • Interstate 5 Lid Feasibility Study. Fund a City-led technical study of extending Freeway Park and lidding Interstate 5 in the Center City and beyond for parks, affordable housing, new streets, and other civic uses.
  • Melrose Promenade. Implement walking and bicycling improvements, public space, and public art along Melrose Avenue in Capitol Hill.
  • Pine-Boren Lid Park. Expand Plymouth Pillars Park by building an approximately 14,000 square foot lid park over Interstate 5 at the east corner of the Pine Street and Boren Avenue intersection.
  • Terry Avenue Promenade. Build a pedestrian-oriented woonerf on Terry Avenue between Cherry Street and Marion Street.
  • Virginia Street Woonerf. Build a pedestrian-oriented woonerf on Virginia Street between Boren Avenue and Minor Avenue.

Active Transportation

  • 8th Avenue Bicycling Improvements. Build a northbound protected bike lane between Pike Street and Bell Street.
  • Interstate 5 Overpasses “Kit of Parts”. Implement a suite of pedestrian improvements for I-5 overpasses, such as landscaping and sound buffers, between Olive Way and Madison Street.
  • Olive Way Interstate 5 Overpass Walking Improvements. Implement a roadway reconfiguration on the Olive Way I-5 overpass and I-5 interchange to increase pedestrian safety and reduce traffic conflicts.
  • Pike-Pine Corridor Bicycling Improvements. Build protected bike lanes on Pike Street and/or Pine Street between Downtown and Capitol Hill.

Affordable Housing

  • Affordable Housing. Contribute funding to create 300 affordable homes for workers earning hospitality industry wages (50-60 percent of area median income) within one mile of the Convention Center Addition. For more information on this component, click here.

We wish to work collaboratively with the Washington State Convention Center, the Seattle Design Commission, the City departments involved, the City Council, and the Mayor on further refinement and advancement of the Community Package. We look forward to the progression of the WSCC Addition project as it moves through the approval process.

The Community Package coalition.
The Community Package coalition.

How You Can Help

With your support, we can secure these critical investments for Seattle’s growing city center and make the Community Package a reality.

Please message the following key public officials supporting the Community Package by February 10th. If you don’t have time to send a personalized message, you can also sign this petition.

The Seattle Design Commission will host the unveiling of the WSCC’s official public benefit proposal on Thursday, February 16, 9:00 AM-10:30 AM, at Seattle City Hall room L2-80. You are invited to attend and support the Community Package to help build a better city for all.

Coalition Letter

The Community Package coalition’s letter to the WSCC Board of Directors, which was presented at the January 24th Board meeting, may be viewed below. The letter has full details on each component’s scope, cost, and supporting organizations.

Final Community Package Letter – WSCC Board – 1-24-17 by The Urbanist on Scribd


Feature image credit to LMN Architects.

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I like the idea of a downtown school being included in the lid. However, I really, really do not want to see a lot of buildings on this lid…there are buildings all around it, tons of land for buildings. What downtown does not have is a significant park. Only large parks have the scale and ability to create a sanctuary within a city that allows for the transformation that is needed downtown to really make it a great place to live. Think of the impact of Central Park in NYC or Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC.

If the lid is littered with buildings we will essentially be creating a series of pocket parks, not a continuous expanse of nature. Frankly, while pocket parks are better than nothing I suppose (depending on cost), they generally just plain suck and are un- or under-used because of it.

If buildings cannot be avoided for some reason, then there needs to be very exacting design standards in place that require light access for the park, interesting forms with lots of articulation, and tons of greenery on roofs, walls, etc. (water features would be great as well).

Al Dimond

You know what the greatest community package would be? Holding off on convention center expansion until ST2 buildout is complete and the transit system is really ready for the closure of Convention Place Station.

And the convention center people could use the extra time to figure out what their real role and structure in a democracy should be. Today they have a bunch of powers to override local planning due to their state-government status, but aren’t very transparent or accountable. They ought to choose one or the other: be accountable, or lose some of those powers (i.e. get their projects approved like any private developer).


They = the county. My understanding is the WSCC is a creature of the county. If you want the WSCC to cooperate better wtih Metro, talk to Dow’s office.

David Dahl

I would like to point out that downtown protected bike lane improvements were approved by City Council through the Bike Master Plan and funded through the Move Seattle Levy. Then, implementation of them was put on hold (possibly indefinitely) due to the mess created by the WSCC’s early closure of Convention Place Station for construction of this expansion. These protected bike lanes could (and should) have been built already if it weren’t for the WSCC.


Why not lid completely between Pike and Pine? Too ambitious?

(thinking in the other direction) Is there any thought that the more money invested in lidding I5 will make it harder to justify removing I5 from Seattle’s core in the future, whenever WSDOT / the legislature finally gets around to funding I5’s replacement?


What is I-5’s replacement and where would it go? If it is effectively a tunnel (under a lid), who cares where it goes?


I’m happy to see a strong coalition pushing for a substantial package of improvements.
One specific concern: from the WSCC survey, I was concerned about their improvement for the Olive Way ramps, which proposed moving the sidewalk to the middle of the bridge; that design effectively extended the onramp while placing the pedestrian pathway between travel lanes. I don’t think that the WSCC-suggested design actually does anything. I want a safer Olive Way crossing of I-5, and I encourage the community to push for a design that actually is calmer and safer for all.


Agreed…I don’t like the center-sidewalk approach.

Mike Carr

Better idea would be to include many more neighborhoods in Seattle for projects. Seattle is more than Downtown and Capitol Hill.


If by “better” idea, you mean insane. Community benefits are meant to offset impacts.


Aye, but the Convention Center is different than a private development. It’s another public entity, so every dollar of benefit extracted from the WSCC is basically appropriating the hotel tax for other uses. It’s kind of like when the legislature rerouted a % of ST3 to fund education. I support maximum public benefits so we can spend the hotel tax on more useful things than a new convention center… it’s basically a pot of public money that every interest group wants to get a piece of.

That said, hotel taxes are overwhelmingly generated in Seattle’s core, so I think the proposed public benefits are appropriate.

Mike Carr

Exactly AJ, if funds are spent, use them for all of Seattle not just a select few.


If the convention center brings the promised business in the form of hotel guests and other visitors, it will be generating a lot of tax money from sales tax that would go into the general fund.