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NEWS|December 14 2018

Washington State Convention Center addition will benefit citizens and visitors

By Matt Griffin – Puget Sound Business Journal, Contributing writer

December 14, 2018

The Washington State Convention Center addition project is an example of how shared visions can intersect for the public good. Achieving approval for the addition, now under construction, was a team effort that tested public policy and addressed many of our city’s pressing priorities.

WSCC is a public facilities district with a purpose to create jobs and revenue for the region. The addition is expected to create about 3,900 long-term jobs and nearly 6,000 construction jobs, plus $260 million annually for the community.

Even so, WSCC’s board of directors pushed the team to look for other community improvements that could be realized as a result of this development.

The project is inherently complex. For the WSCC to build a functional facility that both respected and enhanced downtown’s built environment, it required the city to transfer the rights to three alleys and two sections of streets below grade. In addition to paying the full market value of the land, city rules require the proponents of vacating rights of way propose public benefits.

The specific nature of the benefits needed for approval is not clearly defined by city code, and to complicate matters further, the Seattle City Council began a process to update these policies at about the same time we began the vacation process.

As planning got underway, numerous community members saw the addition as an opportunity to fund their priorities. Ultimately, many of these groups came together to form the Community Package Coalition, spearheaded by Alex Hudson, then-head of the First Hill Improvement Association, and Marty Kooistra, executive director of the Housing Development Consortium. This coalition had its own set of priorities, some of which overlapped with WSCC’s and some of which did not.

Early on, WSCC offered to provide a package consisting entirely of affordable housing funding, in response to our region’s homelessness crisis and aligned with the convention center’s historic contributions, including funding for more than 1,100 affordable units. This was viewed as too different from past public benefits packages, which typically consist of open space and streetscape improvements. Over time, as the team worked to find an intersection with the Community Package Coalition, the set of contributions began to take shape.

Ultimately, WSCC is funding $93 million in community contributions. This includes benefits required by the city, additional benefits through the agreement with the Community Package Coalition and nearly $40 million in funding for subsidized housing ($30 million to the city — a greater sum than the city’s new affordable housing program would require — plus $5 million to King County and $4.3 million to the city’s incentive zoning program.)

Beyond affordable housing, the final package contains funding for public spaces — $10 million for better pedestrian connections on Pike and Pine streets and $10 million for improvements to Freeway Park, which WSCC has long supported. The package funds three significant new public art installations, consistent with its 30-year history of providing free access to artwork, a program begun by the late former Seattle City Councilmember Phyllis Lamphere. And it includes $1.5 million toward a comprehensive study of lidding a portion of Interstate 5, plus downtown bicycle infrastructure and other city improvements.

Thanks to everyone’s perseverance, the City Council in May unanimously approved the five street and alley vacations. The addition is scheduled for completion in 2021.

Arriving at $93 million in community investments was challenging, but WSCC’s board gave the project team the necessary tools to get the deal done while building a better city for residents and visitors alike. In the end, our entire community benefits.

 

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