By Kate Snyder
Part of downtown Seattle could soon see a facelift designed to better serve members of the community. The redevelopment of old administration buildings was one of the highlights of King County Executive Dow Constantine’s recent 2023 State of the County address. In his speech to King County Council, he described a proposal to reimagine the courthouse neighborhood.
“This historic area can remain a center of local government, but it can also be so much more: a neighborhood with residents of all incomes, with shops and restaurants and gathering spaces, a place that enlivens and supports the surrounding neighborhoods,” Constantine said. “Public and private workplaces that reflect the way people work in this new era. It’s clear that we’re not simply going back to how things were — so let’s use this moment to go forward.”
The area he referred to in his speech includes a seven-block stretch of downtown Seattle that is part of what is now known as the Civic Campus Plan, according to the county’s website. That plan is an initiative that county officials started in 2017 in order to determine the best way to use these sites to deliver services to the public. The current civic campus is spread across eight acres of land, with eight buildings totaling 2.3 million square feet and 10 sites, according to the county’s website. Under current zoning, these properties could allow for a total of 4.3 million square feet of non-residential development capacity, and if used for residential purposes, the area could support more than 2,500 housing units.
One of the buildings in that area that needs restoration, Constantine said, is the Yesler Building at 400 Yesler Way, which houses the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, Department of Community and Human Services and Safety and Claims, according to King County’s website. Additionally, he said the county courthouse needs renovation, the county jail that was built in the 1980s is “obsolete” and the old administration building that was constructed in the 1960s is vacant. Most of the campus is centered on Fourth Avenue between James Street and Yesler Way. King Street Center, located in Pioneer Square, has also been included in the program.
“Over the decades, King County has made investments in these buildings to keep providing services to residents,” the website states. “However, many of them are underutilized, functionally obsolete, or are facing costly maintenance and repairs that may be financially unsustainable. Not only are some of these buildings at the end of their useful life, the area around the campus is often perceived as being unsafe. New approaches to delivering health and human services, law enforcement, and criminal justice are also driving change at King County, and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced governments at all levels to rethink how they deliver services to the public.”
Constantine referenced the initiative in his speech, saying that the neighborhood could become “a vibrant place to live, to work, to visit and to thrive.” He also proposed that members of the council decided to allow Sound Transit to build its new tunnel and station at the vacant administration building. That investment in infrastructure, he argued, could set the groundwork for new development and jump start even greater reinvention of the area.
“This is no small task,” he said. “It is a project that will take years to design and longer to complete, but we can start with a key decision right now. Sound Transit is considering the shuttered Administration Building as the site for a new Link light rail station. If selected, we should make the most of this opportunity.”