Adding the proposed “Addition” to the Washington State Convention Center would roughly double the 400,000 visitors it now gets each year, bringing scores more customers to small restaurants and retailers like us.
From the window of an airplane, it’s impossible to miss the cranes and new skyscrapers built on the global success of local companies gone big. Gazing down from 10,000 feet, a person could miss the ebb and flow of daily life.
But here on ground level, it’s clear that small, local businesses are a big part of what keeps the city moving. They enrich the local economy every day.
Running a small business isn’t for the faint of heart. One need only glance at recent headlines in this very newspaper to see how frequently businesses come and go. But running and growing a small business, despite its challenges, is in our blood. We love this city, and we love being a part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem here.
Imagine for a moment that you own a business that is fortunate enough to have a line of customers arriving each day. Now imagine having to turn away half of those waiting in line due to a lack of resources. That is what’s happening at the Washington State Convention Center. In fact, in the past five years alone, the convention center has had its own “line out the door” of some 350 would-be events that it couldn’t accommodate, due to space or schedule constraints. Looking at it from another angle, that’s more than $2.13 billion in lost potential revenue for our region.
These customers range from national conventions of medical specialists to annual employee events for Puget Sound businesses — and everything in between.
To accommodate its customers, the convention center plans to build an additional $1.7 billion facility and double its overall space. The new building — known as the Addition — will include 440,000 square feet of new spaces: a large exhibition hall, meeting rooms and ballrooms. Considering that it currently averages more than 400,000 visitors each year, the Addition could roughly double that figure, bringing scores more customers to small restaurants and retailers like us. It would also benefit hotels, inns and cultural attractions and small businesses. In other words, this project would create — and sustain — plentiful jobs for the city.
After years of planning and preparation, the Seattle City Council will begin deliberations in early April. The convention center is requesting council’s approval of five street vacations that are needed to build the Addition. Three unused alleys — two between Olive and Howell and another hidden below-grade at the Convention Place Station, plus two underground at Olive Way and Terry Avenue, comprise the request. We urge the council to approve them as soon as possible.
The Addition also will transform east-west streets severed by Interstate 5, and will be a major step in knitting the neighborhoods of downtown, Capitol Hill and First Hill back together by adding lively, inviting retail along Ninth and Pine streets, enhancing Freeway Park, improving streetscapes and funding bike lanes. Healing the scar that the freeway has left in the heart of our city is important as Seattle adjusts to its growth and changing identity.
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And, as part of the proposal, the convention center is pledging $33 million toward affordable housing — a desperately needed infusion of funds. This contribution will be overseen by the Seattle Office of Housing, which can often leverage this kind of funding three to one. This means that not only will the convention center bring hundreds of thousands of new visitors; it will also help fund homes for those who are struggling in our community.
Whether from the window of an airplane above the city or the window of a corner shop, the reasons to say “yes” to the Addition should be clear as day. We can’t afford to delay this opportunity.
The project is currently in the hands of the City Council, and we urge our city leaders to approve the Addition project as expeditiously as possible.