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King County Selects Northwest Studio to Spearhead its Civic Campus Master Plan in Downtown Seattle

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By Jack Stubbs

King County has a plan in the works for ten sites that it owns in downtown Seattle: the county hopes to create a downtown civic campus that has “the potential to create the next generation high-density town center located in the pulse of downtown Seattle,” according to the county’s Request for Proposals, which was closed on November 17th.

Three architecture firms—Portland, Oregon-based Shiels Obletz Johnsen, Seattle-based Northwest Studio and San Francisco-based Gensler—applied to the RFP to collaborate with the county on plans for its civic campus. The RFP was originally released on October 16th, 2017. However, late last week, a Notice of Selection was issued to Northwest Studio for the King County Civic Master Plan.

The Master Plan addresses the “short and longer term facilities and operational space planning needs and serve as the basis for future analysis and master plan development” for the properties that the county owns downtown, according to the online RFP. The plan will be designed for “future flexibility, growth and opportunities, incorporation of state of the art technology, optimization of infrastructure investment and promotion of neighborhood safety,” according to the document. The county hopes to create a civic campus that becomes a focal point for the community, an area within the city where “diverse groups of people and neighborhoods…can thrive.”

At this point, the county’s plans for its downtown civic campus are still taking shape—it is not yet determined how large the civic campus will eventually be. The campus will include, but is not limited to, ten properties in the city’s downtown core: King County Courthouse at 516 3rd Avenue; King County Administration Building at 500 4th Avenue; King County Correctional Facility at 500 5th Avenue; 420 Fourth Avenue Building at 420 4th Avenue; Chinook Building at 401 4th Avenue; a vacant property at 415 Fifth Avenue; Goat Hill Garage at 415 Sixth Avenue; the Yesler Building at 400 Yesler Way; vacant land adjacent to the Goat Hill Garage at 415 6th Avenue; and the King Street Center Building at 201 S. Jackson Place.

The proposed campus is at the intersection of several prominent neighborhoods in the city, including the historic Pioneer Square, the Central Business District, the International District, Yesler Terrace and First Hill. The RFP notes that the county’s downtown civic campus “has the potential of being the vital link that connects and acts as a catalyst in the revitalization” of these neighborhoods.

According to the most current version of the RFP, the county’s plans for its civic campus downtown include four phases, which will develop over the coming months. Phase 1—project understanding and data gathering—has an anticipated duration of five months, with phases two through four lasting an additional 24 months.

According to Maureen Thomas, project manager in the county’s facilities management division, the county is currently in the process of determining how best to move forward, given that it has recently made its Notice of Selection to Northwest Studio to be its partner for the proposed development. “We are looking at coming up with a Master plan to decide how to move forward and what a civic campus plan should look like in the next 20 years, which is the first part of [the project],” she said.

Moving forward, the county hopes that its Master Plan will encourage a dynamic, collaborative—and at this point open-ended—process. “[Within the county], we will be using elected officials, a guiding principles task force and a needs assessment task force…we will also be working with external stakeholders to develop what our goals, visions and guidelines will be [as part of] the first phase,” Thomas added.

The current Civic Campus Master Plan grew out of a 2015 King County Council Auditor recommendation to prepare a building alternatives analysis to guide future investment in the King County Courthouse and the downtown buildings, according to the RFP. As part of Phase 1 of the project, the county will identify the tenants’ future operational and space needs within the downtown civic campus by year 2025, current unoccupied usable square feet at each location and potential funding alternatives moving forward.

Northwest Studio will now work in collaboration with King County to develop its plans for the civic campus downtown over the coming months, and the two entities are currently under negotiations about how best to move the project forward, according to Esther Decker, contract specialist with King County. At this point, the county has no additional information about its civic Master Plan while it is in negotiations with Northwest Studio about current project plans.