Convention Center Expansion Plans

The Council’s Transportation committee heard a presentation this morning on the proposed expansion to the Washington State Convention Center. One of the first points made in the presentation is that the goal is not primarily to host larger conventions, but to be able to host multiple conventions — thus the separation between the different buildings is less of an issue.

The main feature of the new expansion is a new 150,000 square foot exhibit hall. Their intent is to build it below grade, and then rebuild the street level retail space and pedestrian access above it. It will also have three levels of parking (about 700 stalls, far less than the 1600 in the existing WSCC), another 100,000 foot exhibition hall, two floors of meeting rooms, and on top a 60,000 foot ballroom.  In total, it approximately doubles the size of the existing Convention Center.  They emphasized that the reduced amount of parking is a recognition that the Convention Center is in the center of the city with strong mass transit access and thus will be far less reliant on cars to bring people in.

They also discussed the removal of the Convention Center bus/train station. They reiterated points made in recent weeks: that the long-term plan was always to remove buses from the tunnel when the light rail line extending north was completed, and that the site is within 1000 feet of the Westlake tunnel station.

They are emphasizing in the pedestrian plan that they want to make Pine a great pedestrian access street, with access both up the hill to Capitol Hill and down to the downtown districts.

Their plan looks to be super friendly to the Paramount theater across the street, with open space on the corner of Pine and 9th, and retail “market space” along 9th between Pine and Olive.  Not to mention all the additional parking for theater-goers in the evening when the Convention Center is not in use.  Though Council member Godden pointed out that the Plaza space in the current Convention Center is neither well loved nor well used by the community, and asked how they could do better this time; the team responded that Pike Street is clearly not working the way the designers had intended; the plaza design reflects how people thought of those spaces 25 years ago, not how they think about them today, and that there is a group looking at the plaza right now to understand how to improve it.

Council member Bagshaw asked about the apartment building in the project and whether zoning would be used to require affordable housing; the team responded that they are not currently looking at zoning, but that they have $5 million included in the project specifically to create affordable housing and they intended to direct that to the apartment complex. They also intend to address low-income housing in the package of public benefits they offer in exchange for the public right-of-way vacation requests they will need to make in order to proceed with the project.

Committee chair Rasmussen asked how the notion of lidding I-5 fit in with the project. The team didn’t have a specific answer; their intent is to focus much of their public benefit dollars on improving the street and sidewalk connections on Pine and Olive up to Capitol Hill, but they would do it in a way that doesn’t preclude lidding I-5.

There was no specific action required by the Transportation committee today; the committee will have a larger discussion of lidding I-5 on the 16th, including input from community organizations.