Design plans are moving ahead on the convention center expansion in downtown Seattle with a design recommendation meeting scheduled for May 3rd. The Washington State Convention Center—which runs over Interstate 5 and holds large annual regional events like the February northwest garden show and the Emerald City ComiCon—opened in the spring of 1988. The just under 415,000 square foot center has reached capacity and has hired LMN Architects to add 440,000 square feet of convention space, 5 stories above ground, with underground parking (anywhere from 600-800 vehicles).
The site for the expansion is about a block northeast at 1601 9th Avenue, what is currently the Convention Place bus station that routes buses through a bus tunnel. With more light rail coming in the near future and slated to use the bus tunnel, the city will make all buses run on the street by 2021. The convention center expansion plan requires demolishing the station.
The project is part of what the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections is describing as a “planned community development component.” In 2014, the convention center also bought property on two additional blocks, with plans for mixed-use projects on each. There’s a proposal for a 29 story building with 6,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and 438 residences at 920 Olive Way (currently hosting two restaurants, a two story light rail transit facility, and parking lots). There’s also a planned 16 story office building on top of 11,000 square feet of commercial space at 1711 Boren Avenue (right now it’s a Honda dealership and car lot).
Such a massive project is not without legal battles, however. The proposed construction timeline is on hold. Skanska and Hunt Construction, the hired contractor team, sued the convention center this March after the center dropped them from the project (reportedly to search for a cheaper firm). Earlier this April, the King County Superior Court issued a ruling:
“King County Judge Beth Andrus on Wednesday denied Skanska-Hunt’s bid to be reinstated as the contractor, but granted the request to stop the convention center from starting to select a new contractor,” wrote the Seattle Times. “The question of whether the convention-center authority wrongly terminated Skanska-Hunt should be decided in a trial, beginning within 120 days, the judge ruled.”
The total cost of the convention center project is estimated at $1.4 billion, with construction at $750 million. If the project moves beyond the lawsuit and finds a builder without delay, breaking ground could start early 2017, with an opening in 2020.
On a side note, back in the fall of 2015, a Seattle firm proposed to cap a section of I-5 with a 2 mile long park that would run near the convention center expansion. At the moment, the project is just conceptual, but it would not be out of place close to Lawrence Halprin’s 1976 5.5 acre Freeway Park.