The Washington State Convention Center is turning away more business than it is booking write, guest columnists Jeff Brotman and Brad Smith. Time for an expansion.
THE Puget Sound region’s popularity as a hub of global business, and a draw for tourists who annually spend hundreds of millions of dollars here, is a key factor in our extended period of local economic growth.
King County has an important opportunity to help extend this prosperous run by supporting the Washington State Convention Center addition project. By approving the sale of a parcel of county-owned land that is crucial for the planned expansion, the county council would help lay the foundation for continued economic health.
We cannot risk missing this opportunity. More than 400,000 people attend events at the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) each year. Whether they are local, national or international travelers, these visitors dine in our restaurants, shop in our stores, visit our neighborhoods, stay in our hotels, ride our ferries and tour our cultural institutions. And, they pay taxes that support important local services.
Read another view
Three guest columnist ask the question of whether the city is getting a good enough deal. http://st.news/2oHO7Tu
WSCC is one of the nation’s most desirable locations for meetings. The center has turned away more business in the past five years (2012-2016) than they have booked due to a lack of available dates. Per Visit Seattle, which leads WSCC’s national convention sales, these opportunities equated to more than 350 unrealized events, 1,684,800 unfulfilled hotel room nights, and $2.13 billion in lost economic benefit for the region.
Soon, the WSCC will be unable to support the ongoing growth of even local businesses that host large gatherings, forcing them to relocate their events — and the dollars that come with them — to other cities.
The proposed addition project is a free-standing facility just northeast of the existing center, where the King County-owned Convention Place Station (CPS) is currently located. When built, the addition will roughly double convention capacity, allowing the WSCC to operate the two facilities simultaneously, and creating a steady stream of meeting activity and demand for hotels and services.
The WSCC addition project has many beneficiaries:
• Local businesses: Approximately $235 million in additional annual revenue.
• Employees: As many as 2,300 long-term hospitality jobs and an additional 1,600 indirect jobs in other categories.
• Construction workers: 6,000 construction jobs.
• Diverse businesses: Up to $70 million in contracting opportunities for minority, veteran, disadvantaged and women-owned small businesses.
• Housing: As part of the agreement to acquire CPS, WSCC will contribute $5 million for affordable housing.
• The public: More than $18 million in annual city and state tax revenue and no public funding. The project will be financed primarily with bonds backed by existing hotel-room taxes.
For more than a decade, the Sound Transit board of directors has planned to close CPS by 2021 as light rail service to the Northgate area is expanded. While moving forward with the addition project will require the closure of CPS earlier than previously planned, it will provide a variety of benefits for the county. Most notably, WSCC will pay King County Metro $275 million toward transit operations over 30 years. This is a significant win for the economic prosperity of the region, as well as for the financial health of the transit system.
Everything is aligned to lock down this critical long-term investment in our economic future. We have unsatisfied convention and meeting space demand, the will to expand a successful facility, a responsible strategy for doing so, sufficiently low bond rates to make the investment prudently, and the support of diverse stakeholders.
To delay this opportunity — even for a year or two — will cost the region hundreds of millions in revenue and resulting jobs. Let’s not take that risk. We urge the Metropolitan King County Council to approve the land sale and move this project forward.