By Jack Stubbs
A development proposing a large-scale expansion to the Washington State Convention Center was given the green light at a second design review recommendation meeting tonight.
On Tuesday, January 16th, a second design review meeting was held for the three-site project, which will expand the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC). The expansion calls for the addition of 1,230,000 square feet of gross floor area to the existing Washington State Convention Center, as well as the construction of a new 404-unit residential tower and a 500,000 square foot commercial office building. At the meeting, applicant, Seattle-based LMN Architects, presented updated project plans to the downtown review board on behalf of the Washington State Convention Center, the owner of the project.
The expansion project was approved, pending the applicant team’s consideration of various design conditions relating to the development’s relationship to the surrounding neighborhood context.
The WSSC expansion project will consist of three sites. Site A is located 1600 9th Avenue; site B is located at 920 Olive Way, and site C is located at 1711 Boren Avenue. The project sits at the intersection of several established downtown neighborhoods including Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine corridor, the Denny Triangle, South Lake Union, First Hill and the downtown urban core.
The site A portion of the project will add approximately 1,230,000 square feet of gross floor area to the existing Washington State Convention Center. This addition include approximately 250,000 square feet of new exhibition space, 120,000 square of meeting rooms, a 60,000 square-foot ballroom space, and parking for up to 717 additional vehicles, according to the submitted project plans. Site B calls for the construction of a new 290-foot 404-unit residential tower, while site C is planned for a 240-foot 500,000 square foot commercial office building. Site C will also include the loading entrance and ramp for the WSSC Addition Project.
The approval of the expansion project marks the latest chapter in a review process that has evolved over the last couple of years. The downtown review board granted approval to the applicant’s plans for site A at the most recent Design Review Recommendation (DRR) meeting held in July 2016 and gave the green light for sites B and C at a DRR meeting held in May 2016.
Kicking off the applicant team’s presentation, Mark Reddington of LMN Architects discussed the current status of site A since the last DRR meeting. The project team enhanced the exterior materials to further activate the streetscape and also improved the lighting of the building’s interior, particularly in the proposed ballroom area. Various landscaping elements and art murals were also added at street level to help integrate the building into its surrounding context. Finally, the applicant team also added detailing to the formerly blank exterior blank walls and added landscaping elements around the building’s exits.
John Chau, partner at LMN who is leading the co-development design, discussed the design updates the applicant team had made to sites B and C of the project—which include the proposed residential tower and office building— since the previous meeting. The project team added different exterior materials and relocated the residential building’s lobby exits, all following recommendation by the design review board. The team also refined the design of the 9th Avenue Plaza along Howell St., which has been officially designated as a Public Benefit Open space. Additionally, various artistic elements were added to the garage doors along Howell St., and windows were added to the street level facade to better connect the interior retail spaces with the streetscape.
Most of the board members’ clarifying questions focused on how the proposed expansion project would conform with the surrounding neighborhood. Board member Belinda Bail asked how the proposed convention center rooftop area would incorporate landscaping and open space elements. Additionally, Bail ask the applicant to clarify how the proposed artwork along Boren St. would further activate the adjacent streetscape. Board member Bradley Calvert asked the applicant to elaborate upon its plans for the 9th Avenue Plaza and expand on how it planned to design the area as a Public Benefit Open Space. Concerning sites B and C, board member Anjali Grant inquired specifically about vehicular access to the site, as well as whether the public amenity space would be available to members of the public.
Two members of the public spoke at the meeting, and both voiced comments in support of the project. The first speaker, a resident of Capitol Hill, expressed his appreciation of the current design, particularly the modulation and landscaping elements. “I’m supportive of the way the project has evolved over the last few years…the applicant has presented an intriguing and active street level environment,” he said.
Alex Hudson, a member of the Community Package—a coalition of nonprofits, community organizations and advocacy groups who have been tracking the project’s evolution since its inception—voiced her approval of the public spaces, artwork and retail spaces included in the development. “This is an integrated environment in which [the project] sits, and I urge the board to pass this project through,” she added.
While the board approved the project to proceed, it also highlighted several recommendations for the applicant team to consider moving forward. The board’s discussion mostly related to how the Convention Center expansion would conform to the surrounding streetscape. Specifically, the board recommended that the exterior street-level artwork and materiality be a coordinated effort with the neighborhood, also suggesting that the applicant team consider incorporating further landscaping and artwork elements and open spaces along the streetscape. Concerning ground-level uses for sites B and C, the board recommended that the applicant team work further on the design and programing of the amenity areas and street-level retail entrances.
Having seen its project approved by the review board, the applicant team will now submit a Master Use Permit to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection for review.