Inside the Washington State Convention Center Expansion

That giant hole on Olive Way? All part of a $1.8 billion expansion that recently got underway.

By Philip Kiefer April 23, 2019 Published in the May 2019 issue of Seattle Met

If you’ve driven or walked on Olive Way between downtown and Capitol Hill, you’ve probably noticed a gaping cavity just west of I-5. The Washington State Convention Center (WSCC), which hosts everything from industry confabs to the Emerald City Comic Con, is expanding to the site not far from its current digs along Pike. Demolition is well underway—first up, an underground convention floor—but the expansion won’t be open until 2022. Meanwhile Olive will be (relatively) back to normal next year with a pedestrian-friendly makeover. WSCC predicts that the addition will bring in $200 million a year from out of state. At long last, more convention space to meet current demand.

“Last year, the convention center turned down more bookings than it accepted.” —Project manager Matt Rosauer

What's Going In?

  • The six-story building, designed by LMN Architects (who also devised the new University of Washington light rail station and MOHAI), will have ground floor retail and a top-floor ballroom.
  • The Exhibition Hall, approximately 150,000 square feet, will be situated on the site of the old bus tunnel entrance.

  • An underground loading dock, tucked between Olive and Howell, will allow semitrailers access to the cavernous space.

  • Above the loading dock, WSCC plans to sell the rights to a 29-story apartment building and 16-story office tower to an outside developer.

Why Now?

  • Since 2013, WSCC has been unable to bring in a potential $1.66 billion because of event date unavailability.
  • 12 organizations have already booked gatherings through 2026 in the addition.

The Expansion by the Numbers

$1.8 Billion Total cost of the new convention center. Of that, $1.2 billion will be spent on construction, and $300 million on land acquisition. Most of the funding comes from bond sales supported by a tax on hotel rooms.

$39.6 Million Money contributed to the city’s affordable housing fund. The project also spreads $53.8 million around the neighborhood in the form of sidewalk improvements, protected bike lanes, and public artwork.

20,000 Tons of steel in the center, and...

90,000 Cubic yards of concrete.

180 x 63 Feet The dimensions of 18 long-span steel trusses that will support all those building materials, allowing for a more spacious and open underground convention hall.

100 Miles Length of the radiant heating pipes in the building’s floors. The project is currently on track for LEED gold certification, thanks to solar power, rain water collection, and low-water irrigation. It’s also Salmon-Safe certified, and the ballroom will incorporate local timber.

How Big Is That Crater?

The addition will excavate 350,000 cubic yards of dirt—that doesn’t include the hole already dug for Convention Place Station. It would take a single cow over 25,000 years to fill it with milk. It could easily fit a Goodyear blimp, or roughly one of those Alaskan cruise ships parked here in the summer.

A Brief History of the WSCC

1980: Regional leaders begin planning WSCC—then known as the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. Originally, the city considered the Seattle Center, but advocates for reviving Seattle’s downtown pushed for the current site.

1988: WSCC opens for business. The $186 million price tag included $750,000 to find new housing for displaced residents.

1995: A $195 million expansion north across Pike Street gives the Convention Center its signature arch.

2014: WSCC buys the Honda dealership between Howell and Olive for $56.5 million, laying groundwork for future growth.

2017: King County Metro sells Convention Place, the bus tunnel entrance, to WSCC for $275 million.

August 14, 2018: The addition breaks ground.

November 21, 2018: Olive Way is rerouted around demolition of and construction for the underground convention floor.

Mid-2020: Olive Way will reopen with a new street and improved pedestrian infrastructure.

2022: The addition—dubbed “The Summit”—is slated to open for business.

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