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The Seattle Design Commission agreed Thursday that the Washington State Convention Center Addition will be a better project with the inclusion of three alleyway vacations, however, members couldn’t reach a consensus whether funding a Lid I-5 study is a public benefit developers should keep in their package.

The $1.6 billion WSCC Addition project — contained within Pine Street, Ninth Avenue, Howell Street and Boren Avenue — includes a request for 7,666 square feet of combined alleyway vacation and another 21,744 square feet of additional setbacks and open space.

In order to receive those public right-of-way vacations, the public facility district must develop a package of public benefits for the project commensurate to the impact of those losses, on top of paying fair market value for the land.

Leading the first presentation of those proposed benefits (full presentation below) to the design commission on Feb. 16 was Pine Street Group managing partner Matt Griffin and Mark Reddington with LMN Architects.

Griffin said all of the vacation requests are being driven by designs for a 150,000-square-foot below-grade exhibit space. While there doesn’t seem to be opposition to the project, there have been a lot of requests regarding public benefits, he said.

The convention center wants to work with the city to include affordable housing in its benefit package, Griffin said, as it was a frequent request heard from the public and much needed in downtown Seattle.

“We think it’s a good use in dealing with one of our most important issues,” Griffin said.

The convention center is already committed to providing $5 million in affordable housing — at 80 percent of area median income — as part of a purchase agreement with King County for the largest portion of the project site. That could be included in a 400-unit residential codevelopment planned north of the WSCC Addition. The public benefits package is proposed to include another $5 million that the city could use for affordable housing, low-income housing or addressing the homelessness crisis in Seattle, Griffin told the Capitol Hill Times.

The Community Package Coalition, comprised of nine nonprofits, community organizations and advocacy groups, argued Thursday the public benefits package on the table falls short of the at least $79 million investment the coalition believes is needed to be commensurate with the impact of the vacations being requested by the convention center and the size and scale of the project. The coalition has provided its own package for consideration (see below).

One of those requests is funding a feasibility study for lidding I-5 in the Center City area around the WSCC Addition, which the Lid I-5 Steering Committee estimates could cost up to $1.5 million and take two years to complete. Even if a technical study determined a lid could be accomplished, it would be up to the Washington State Department of Transportation to approve such a project in the future.

“It’s a very, very complex question about the idea and how to do it,” Reddington said. “We are proposing to support that study.”

But design commissioners were divided on supporting the study. Concerns included the fact that a study doesn’t guarantee an I-5 lid will ever occur, a desire to see more tangible and deliverable public benefits within the timeframe of the addition’s opening and whether waiting for a lid would preclude making transportation improvements, such as at the Pine Street bridge east of Boren Avenue.

“Holding back because of that possibility, I don’t know about that,” said design commissioner John Savo.

Commission chair Shannon Loew said it’s unreasonable to expect the convention center to be the leader in exploring lidding I-5.

“At the same time, just writing a check seems precarious,” he said.

Commission vice chair Ross Tilghman said he wants public benefits that will be available for today’s generation.

“It’s very early to know if this is a good use of money for this project,” he said.

Another concern expressed by the commission revolved around how the convention center will contribute to transportation improvements planned in the Pike Pine Renaissance: Act One project being spearheaded by the Seattle Office of the Waterfront and Downtown Seattle Association — the project is planned to improve the pedestrian experience from the Pike Place Market to Melrose Market in Capitol Hill.

Office of the Waterfront project manager Steve Pearce said one challenge is having the WSCC Addition much further in planning than Act One and One Center City, which is a 20-year plan being developed to improve connectivity in Seattle’s central neighborhoods. An Act One concept design is expected in May, Pearce said. Funding for the Pike/Pine project is dependent on funding through a Waterfront Local Improvement District, which is still being formed and is dependent on property owners approving its creation.

The convention center’s proposed public benefits package includes five additional/improved intersection crossings on Pike and Pine streets — between Ninth and Boren avenues — 8,000 square feet of additional/enhanced landscape improvements, pedestrian railings along the Pine Street bridge and additional curb bulbs and crosswalks on Pike and Pine.

While the public benefit package focuses on improved connectivity between downtown and Capitol Hill in the Pike/Pine corridor, commissioner Brodie Bain said she’d like to see improvements on Olive Way.

“Just living up there, there’s quite a volume now,” she said of traffic, which is expected to increase further with new developments sprouting up downtown. 

Griffin said earlier during the meeting that the design team felt it could make a bigger impact on pedestrian improvements and connectivity by focusing on Pike and Pine.

“We also worry about spreading the peanut butter so thin you can’t taste it,” he said.

Commissioners spoke favorably about plans to enhance lighting on the facades of the Worldmark Hotel-Camlin and Paramount Theatre, though Loew cautioned avoiding “light pollution.” Sarah Sodt, city historic preservation officer, said the city’s landmarks board would need to approve that lighting plan before implementation.

Griffin also confirmed the WSCC Addition team has worked with the Seattle Theatre Group to ensure the Paramount’s loading dock is not blocked during construction.

“Their performances are an important part of our neighborhood,” he said.

A large public art mural is also planned at the end of Ninth Avenue, next to the existing convention center building. 

The WSCC Addition team will go before the Seattle Design Commission again on March 16. Griffin told commissioners to expect more proposed benefits.

“Some are ones that we will do anyways, and some we will add,” he said. 

Seattle Design-WSCC Addition by branax2000 on Scribd

FINAL Community Package Letter, Design Commission_17-0216 by branax2000 on Scribd