Last week King County announced a tentative deal to sell perhaps the largest remaining undeveloped property in Seattle’s city center. The 4.1-acre Convention Place Station will be sold for $161 million to the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) for its major expansion project. The move heralds the long-expected closure of the bus station due to the inevitable removal of buses from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, making way for more frequent light rail trains.

If approved by the WSCC and King County Council, the sale would come to $904 per square foot. That compares to $678 per square foot the WSCC paid for a collection of smaller neighboring properties only four years ago, illustrating just how fast land values are growing in the Denny Triangle and the city center more generally. Residential and commercial construction in the area is intense, including what will be Seattle’s largest hotel less than a block away.

Though not made clear in the announcement, King County appears to be loaning WSCC the funds to buy the site from itself: a net total of $275 million is expected in principal and interest payments over 32 years. The proceeds will go to improving Metro’s transit service and reliability

Above the purchase price, the WSCC will voluntarily contribute $5 million to a King County affordable housing fund, $4.5 million to new public art, and $100,000 to decommission existing public art at the bus station. The WSCC will also preserve  bus access to the transit tunnel until at least September 2018, around which time construction of the new convention center facility will force the closure of tunnel access for buses.

The closure of Convention Place Station was long anticipated, but the WSCC’s expansion project is moving up the expected timeline by three years. The tunnel was originally planned to close in 2021, when Northgate Link opens and light rail trains will arrive more often. Because of the accelerated timeline, and in combination with other major transportation projects in the area, the City of Seattle is planning to implement a number of Downtown street changes. This effort is known as One Center City. In addition to exploring greater transit priority on surface streets, Metro and the City are working to locate new layover space for buses; along with serving passengers, Convention Place Station has some two dozen parking spaces for buses to wait between trips.

Left: what maximum buildout on the WSCC sites could have looked like with entirely private development and maximizing the zoning envelope. Right: what the WSCC Addition project is proposing. (LMN Architects)

If the WSCC expansion were not happening, images from the project’s recent public benefits proposal show that the station property (along with co-development sites on two blocks across Olive Way) could have been a mix of office, residential, and hotel towers that is common in this part of Downtown.

A coalition of neighborhood groups and advocacy nonprofits is seeking upwards of $80 million in public benefits from the WSCC Addition due its unprecedented request for five street and alley vacations and the overall scale of the project. Learn more about the Community Package here on The Urbanist.

For more information about the WSCC project, visit wsccaddition.com.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. After the HALA is implemented will their be an increase in the downtown zoning heights? That area is so close to downtown CBD is easy to believe that area will get pushed to 440′ or even higher

      • If the expansion is 500,000SF then they should be paying 6.25 Million in to the Affordable housing fund. I read they were only paying 5 Million.

        How will they Link events, when large events like com-icon or PAX come to town who is going to want to wander between buildings. Their is enough walking to do in just the one building.

        • Should I agree, but technically their land use application is already in and the MHA rezones aren’t yet passed downtown so they aren’t obligated to. We should condition MHA compliance into the land sale perhaps.

  2. Sure would make life downtown better if the buses could keep using the tunnel and layover space until Northgate Link opens inn 2021. Selling this property so soon is rather short sighted.

  3. Can someone point me to the plan or study which discusses the need for the “inevitable removal of buses from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel”? I’d love to understand that better.

    • Sound Transit believes frequencies higher than today’s 6-minute peak headways will require buses to be removed from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Those higher frequencies will happen when the Northgate Link extension goes online. That means Convention Place Station would no longer serve buses starting in mid 2020 reportedly. WSCC Addition construction would accelerate CPS closure to Sept. 30, 2018 apparently. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/deal-reached-to-sell-metro-bus-station-to-expand-washington-state-convention-center/

      • Thanks Doug T. I was hoping for a more technical analysis, but I don’t know where to find that. Six minute headways, or even 3 minute headways if service is doubled, don’t seem very intense to me. I’ve recently moved from the Bay Area and some trains come through the Embarcadero BART station 2 minutes apart during peak periods (https://www.bart.gov/stations/embr/schedule). I’m no transportation engineer, but I would assume removing buses from the Seattle transit tunnel (a big reduction in bus LOS in my opinion) was decided based on serious technical study. The only references I see to bus removal, however, treat it as a done deal (“inevitable”), as if the discussion is long over. Which maybe it is, but I’m curious to know more about it anyway.

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