Category: Convention Center Public Benefits

A Convention Center Redo for the People

With a $1.6 billion price tag, the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) addition will be the single largest real estate development in Seattle history — more costly than Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field combined. This project is to be built on public land, by a public agency and financed with tax dollars. As a city, that means we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in what the community needs most: public open spaces, safe routes for people walking and biking, and homes affordable to working families.

In February, the convention center proposed a package of public benefits in exchange for repurposing 1.28 acres of aboveground and underground streets and alleyways owned by the public. The package of benefits is supposed to be proportional with what the WSCC is asking the public to give up as well as the permanent impacts of the project.

It doesn’t even come close.

The expansion will forever transform a part of our city center. The project will result in years of construction, require the permanent removal of public rights of way and contribute to our housing shortage by adding thousands of low-wage jobs to Seattle. We ask that these challenges be acknowledged and be treated as opportunities to address our city’s most pressing needs head on.

A group of nine community organizations has come together to speak with a unified voice for an alternative to the convention center’s benefit proposal: The Community Package. It represents up to $86 million of investments in projects with meaningful and lasting benefits for our city.

The Community Package creates new parks and open spaces in our dense city center. It makes this highly trafficked area safer for people walking and biking in the neighborhood. It mitigates, rather than worsens, our housing shortage by helping build 300 affordable homes for working families.

In total, the Community Package includes investments in 11 projects. It includes safety improvements for people walking and biking in the Pike-Pine corridor and around the Interstate 5 interchanges. It also includes an expansion of Plymouth Pillars Park with a small lid over I-5 and funding for a feasibility study to explore lidding other parts of the freeway in the future. It creates new people-friendly public spaces on First Hill and in the Denny Triangle while improving existing spaces like Freeway Park to make them safer and more accessible. Critically, the package includes funding to construct affordable housing close to the expansion to ensure families of all backgrounds can enjoy these investments.

The Community Package puts the public on the path to a fair deal. It matches the scale of what the WSCC is asking the public to give up, and is comparable to other benefits packages for recent large, multi-block developments.

More importantly, the investments are interrelated and ensure that the expansion will improve the surrounding neighborhoods, and help the area remain livable as we welcome the many new visitors, staff and traffic the project will bring.

The convention center project team has stated admirable principles: benefiting the city at-large, creating rich mixed-use neighborhoods and strengthening our urban framework. The Community Package offers exactly the type of community-identified projects that get the expansion closer to its own stated objectives.

We want to see our downtown businesses and hospitality industry succeed. We also want to ensure the convention center provides a public benefits package that reflects the massive impact this project will have on our city. With the Community Package, we have a chance to demonstrate how developers and civic projects can build a legacy of positive, long-term improvements in Seattle’s central neighborhoods.

With the next meeting of the Seattle Design Commission set for April 20, the convention center has plenty of time to revise its initial proposal. This is the beginning, not the end, of a conversation with the public. The Community Package should be the starting point for the design commission and City Council in further discussions of proposed benefits.

At the February design commission meeting, an official representing the project remarked that when it came to community benefits, the convention center didn’t want to “spread the peanut butter too thin.” Perhaps it’s time to add more peanut butter.

 

This piece was originally published in the Seattle Times Opinion Section, 10 April 2017. It was written by McCaela Daffern, Sustainability Manager at Capitol Hill Housing; Alex Hudson, Director of First Hill Improvement Association; and Blake Trask, Senior Policy Director at Cascade Bicycle Club.  Click here to read the full article.

 

Learn more about the Community Package

In the News: Convention Center Expansion

In case you missed it, the Convention Center expansion was the subject of last week’s Community Post over on the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.

Our Sustainability Manager and Planning Director look at the affects of the project and lay out the case for investing $57 million in affordable homes for WSCC workers: “We are in the midst of a housing shortage. We can no longer afford to boast how many jobs a project will bring to our city without thoughtful consideration of where these new workers will live.”

Read more over on the Blog, or follow the link here.

Where will the new Convention Center workers live? Behind the numbers.

As our region booms, we are adding far more jobs than housing units. From 2010 to 2015, Seattle added 49 jobs, but only 12 homes per day.

Our city and region is particularly behind on providing housing for people who make 50% of the median income or less, people like hotel desk clerks who average $12.32 per hour. The Washington State Convention Center projects that their new expansion will create 2,300 jobs in the hospitality industry downtown. As our country continues to climb out of the Great Recession, we need more jobs.

Unfortunately, many of these jobs will not pay enough to afford low wage workers the opportunity to live in Seattle. When these workers and their families cannot afford housing near work, they are forced to endure long commutes, commutes that add to traffic congestion, hurt our environment, and take away time from family and community. Luckily, the Convention Center can do something about this by providing affordable housing as a public benefit.

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for our region, and on similar findings for recent downtown Seattle hotel projects, we expect that 60% of the jobs created by the Convention Center expansion will make less than 50% of area median income (AMI). Thanks to the income of other family members, only half of the workers making 50% of AMI or less live in households that fall below 50%. We assume that some of these workers will have a roommate, partner or children, with an average household size of 1.33 people.

This combination of figures leads us to a simple equation for calculating the need for affordable housing (50% of AMI) created by the expansion:

2,300 × 0.6 × 0.5 / 1.33 = 519 affordable homes needed

It costs about $110,000 in local subsidy to create one home that will remain affordable for at least 50 years. So, 519 homes multiplied by $110,000 results in about $57 million in needed funding.

WSCC Addition

 

Build More Homes. House More People.

Build More Homes. House More People.

In case you’ve missed it, plans are underway to redevelop the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC). This billion dollar project, dubbed the “Addition,” will double the capacity of the existing convention center and is expected to begin construction in 2017.

Before that happens, the Addition is assembling a package of community benefits that will go along with the project. Why are public benefits on the table?  As part of the project, they are requesting the city vacate three alleys and underground portions of Olive Way and Terry Avenue. In exchange,  the developer has agreed to pay for these rights of way and also provide a package of public benefits.

Next Wednesday, December 7th, WSCC Addition is hosting an open house to present and get feedback on different community benefit concepts. Our friends from the Lid I-5 campaign will be advocating for a feasibility study to figure out where lidding I-5 is most reasonable citywide, what the new land should be used for, and how the freeway can be improved for commuters and neighbors alike.

We’ll be there to make sure that affordable housing is part of the conversation. Check out the graphic below to understand what’s at stake and how the WSCC addition can help us build more affordable homes and house more people.

Make sure to show up on Wednesday to make your voice heard. You can RSVP to the event on Facebook. WSCC has also circulated an online survey where you can vote on which concept you will like to see.

WSCC Public Benefits Open House

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

5-7 p.m.

WSCC, (705 Pike St, Seattle, WA) Room 2AB