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caption: A sketch of the proposed rooftop garden that would be open to the public.
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A sketch of the proposed rooftop garden that would be open to the public.
Seattle Design Commission

Washington State Convention Center expansion still needs money and land

Groundbreaking for a new mega-project in Downtown Seattle is slipping further back. The expansion of the Washington State Convention Center is now months behind schedule.

Developers still need two big things: money and land.

The convention center expansion project is so large – over two million square feet – it needs city-owned land, specifically, streets and alleys. But the city expects a fair exchange for the land. Developers have to show how the new buildings will benefit the public, otherwise, no city approval.

The most valuable offering is a big rooftop garden six stories above the sidewalk, accessible to the public by an elevator and one staircase. So far, that’s not enough to persuade city design consultants. Members of the Seattle Design Commission are vetting the expansion for the City Council based on how much the project contributes to the public's use of the space.

"What commissioners now need to see is how is that space being designed with the public in mind, and how can the public have the type of access to the space, physical access, that would be expected of any other open space," Michael Jenkins, commission director, said.

Instead, neighborhood groups have a different idea. They say a fair trade would be $60-75 million in new bike lanes, green spaces throughout the city, and affordable housing.

Alex Hudson represents the Community Package Coalition. “We’re hoping to see a fair and equitable deal for the people and the future of the city of Seattle,” she said.

After getting the land, developers will have to see if they have enough money for the project. Developer Matt Griffin says they’ll evaluate their financing in the fall. “We don’t know where we stand on that,” he said.

The project relies on new taxes that haven’t materialized. Last session state lawmakers didn’t pass a new tax on short-term rentals like Airbnb that was dedicated to the Convention Center. The earliest construction could start is March, but that date is also an open question.

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