June 7, 2001

Dance of the developers

  • The convention center expansion was nearly nine years in the making. Chalk it up to a complicated assembly of developers and government agencies that had to work together to make it happen.
    Washington State Convention & Trade Center

    expansion site
    Photo by William Stickney
    The Eagles Building, a historic landmark located at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Union Street, had fallen into a serious state of disrepair by 1995, when the Legislature authorized the convention center to assist in its rehabilitation. The convention center donated the building to A Contemporary Theater and provided the funds to renovate 44 low-income units inside.

    The process to begin the expansion of the Washington State Convention & Trade Center required approximately nine years and some extraordinary assistance from both the public and private sectors of the community. The following timeline traces the many steps leading up to its groundbreaking.


    Seattle’s downtown core was severely depressed and the retail community was struggling. James R. Ellis, convention center chairman, approached members of the Nordstrom family to share ideas for revitalizing the city’s core. The Nordstroms insisted that a larger convention center was key to their future investment in downtown Seattle.

    Support for the expansion grew with the support of Mayor Norm Rice, his deputy Bob Watt, the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Seattle Association, and community leaders Jeff Rhodes, Matt Griffin and Howard S. Wright.

    The convention center board of directors conducted a preliminary study to assess the need to expand its heavy-load exhibit hall in order to meet increased demand by national associations.


    Members of the business, labor and hotel communities recognized the need for a larger facility and formed Citizens to Expand the Convention Center to secure legislative authority and funding for a development study.

    An 11-member task force, co-chaired by Rep. Val Ogden and Sen. Eugene Prince, was established, and hired a professional consulting team to determine baseline criteria for expansion. Items considered were Seattle’s place as a convention destination in competition with other West Coast cities, market demand, and, with the help of task force member Sen. Nita Rinehart, the financial and economic impacts of expansion vs. a “no build” alternative. Final recommendations in favor of expansion were reported to the state Legislature.


    The state Legislature authorized expansion, with the requirement that at least $15 million in irrevocable commitments toward expansion costs be secured from public and/or private sources before state funds could be spent. Seattle City Council President Jan Drago crafted a mutually beneficial agreement for the city’s participation in the expansion.


    The City Council votes unanimously to support the convention center expansion by adopting a memorandum of agreement. It committed $7.5 million toward the project, imposed a hotel sales tax authorized by the Legislature, and entered into a 30-year lease of the Freeway Park garage by the convention center.

    The convention center commits to the replacement of all low-income apartment units displaced by expansion. Through public process, Nancy Smith of the Seattle Housing Resources Group and Chuck Weinstock of the Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program led the development of new housing units. Building sites were secured with the help of civic leaders.

    The R.C. Hedreen Co. signs an option agreement with the convention center following a competitive public bid process. Hedreen agreed to sell a parcel of land to the convention center, buy surplus property from the convention center for a hotel codevelopment, and to design, build and finance what is now the Northwest portion of the expansion project.

    The city of Seattle and the R.C. Hedreen Co., believing strongly in the project, took the lead position to meet the public and private requirements as stipulated by the Legislature.

    The state Office of Financial Management and the state Finance Committee reviewed the irrevocable commitments by the city and Hedreen, and approved the project funding. A complex financing package was secured by the Treasurer’s Office with legislative action to work towards approval was led by Sens. Rinehart and Prince as well as Reps. Ogden, Ida Ballasiotes and Steve Van Luven.

    The convention center’s design committee moved forward to settle expansion-related mitigation issues, meet the needs of the community, and comply with city conditions for street vacations and permits as required.


    The Trammell Crow Co. was selected as codeveloper for the Seventh and Pike corner parcel. Plans for the One Convention Place office tower use surplus air space above the new center entrance and an existing vault for underground parking below the center.


    The convention center entered into a contract with the Museum of History and Industry to codevelop a portion of the northeast block underneath the expanded exhibit hall as a downtown home for the museum (in October 2000, a lease was executed with the Seattle Public Library to use the museum space for up to three years as a temporary home while a new central library is constructed).


    LMN Architects and their consultants, in conjunction with convention center staff and the Seattle Design Committee of the board of directors, consolidate the final design process. Three architectural firms, working for their respective clients and with each other, have cooperated in a public setting to produce outstanding designs for the various components of the project.

    LMN, under the leadership of George Loschky and Chris Eseman, designed the expanded convention center and public spaces including the glass arch. Gerry Gerron and Ted Caloger, architects with MulvannyG2, created the innovative designs for the Elliott Grand Hyatt. Callison Architecture’s design team of Mark Ludtka, Mike Scott and Scott Waggoner provided professional design services for the Trammell Crow office tower.

    A special subcommittee was formed to work with George Loschky for input towards the design of the glass arch. This structure has already become an icon on Pike Street leading people from the historic Pike Place Market up to the Pike/Pine neighborhood and adjacent communities.

    An inclusive public and private process to minimize the impact of the expansion on the neighborhood yielded the design. Features such as the thickness of the arch’s bridge decks were designed to make these crossings appear as unobtrusive as possible. The entry lobby was expanded from a single set of doors on the corner of Pike Street and Seventh Avenue, into a suite of 18 doors that allows efficient access into the convention center.

    New retail spaces, sidewalk canopies, pedestrian way finding signage, and seating invite public activity at the street level. Art enhancements to the streetscape include vertical sculptures along Pike Street; specially designed exit door coverings, lighting armatures, and banner elements on Eighth Avenue; and a unique sidewalk paving pattern which extends along Pike from Seventh to Ninth avenues.

    The convention center has sought to accommodate and mitigate many civic concerns while improving the local neighborhood. It has donated the Eagles Building to A Contemporary Theater and provided funds necessary to support the renovation of the Eagles Apartments. It sponsored lighting improvements in Four Columns Park and the extension of new sculptures to Hubbell Place, created a series of colorful banners to lead pedestrians up First Hill along the Pike/Pine corridor, upgraded plaza lighting adjacent to Freeway Park, and led marketing seminars for local businesses to capitalize on new visitor spending. Having met all aspects of the established criteria, the final design of the expansion was accepted by the design committee and the Downtown Review Board.

    May 19, 1999

    Expansion groundbreaking ceremony takes place.

    Linda Willanger serves as director, executive service for the Washington State Convention & Trade Center.

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