The Seattle Office of Arts and Culture is moving to the third floor of King Street Station and aims to turn the 17,000-square-foot space into an arts hub. The agency will seek community opinions for the next six months to help shape what that will look like.

Share story

Anyone driving through Seattle these days knows that buildings are in constant flux. That holds especially true for the third floor of King Street Station, which over the last century has gone from bustling to barren.

In the early 1900s, the floor was full of Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroad employees.

In the 1970s, Amtrak ruled the space, and by the 1990s it was occupied by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. Although later the space was empty for years, the company didn’t sell it to the city until 2008.

IF YOU GO

ARTSaboard at King Street Station

5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, 303 S. Jackson St., third floor, Seattle (seattle.gov).

The third floor’s stripped-down concrete floors, brick walls, exposed ceiling and big old windows set it apart from the grandiose marble adorning the rest of the station, but they do make it a good setting for art.

Last August, after restoration and a seismic retrofit, Vital 5 productions took out a one-year lease and invited the public to the top floor for the first time for “Out of Sight,” which showcased regional artists concurrent with the Seattle Art Fair last summer and then the recently closed “Giant Steps,” a show of works that could be transported and built on the moon.

A sale to a company that was going to fill it wall to wall with digital servers didn’t come through.

Now it’s empty. But new tenants are on the way.

The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture (ARTS) will move into the space, with plans to occupy about 3,000 of the third floor’s total 17,000 square feet.

ARTS will host meetings over the next six months to determine how the rest of the space should be used. The only requirement is that the mission of the space be grounded in the creative arts. The first of these meetings is Tuesday, the 110th anniversary of the station’s opening.

Randy Engstrom, Office of Arts & Culture director, says one of the main reasons his agency became interested in the space is the finding that the greatest barrier to artists from underrepresented communities is lack of access to exhibit space.

“At the end of the day, I think that community engagement and equity work is an act of strategy rather than an act of compliance,” he said. “I think if we do an effective job of making the maximum amount of people feel ownership over this space, this space has the best chance of being successful. I want everyone in Seattle to feel like this place is their living room.”

ARTS will work with Artists Up, which supports artists of color and immigrant and refugee artists, and also nearby neighborhood associations.

Engstrom wants these conversations to continue once the arts hub is established, using the space as a center not just for art but also for civic dialogue.

“There are a lot of big intractable challenges our city is wrestling with,” Engstrom said. “I think that has led people to ask, ‘Why are we doing this with this building when we could be making it into a homeless shelter or hiring more police?’ … But what I hope is that we can engage our community in those conversations: how do we tackle homelessness, how do we make Seattle more inclusive?”

Another benefit to developing the hub is the positive message it will send to station visitors, ARTS communications manager Erika Lindsay explained.

“It sends a message of who the city is and what our messages are,” Lindsay said.

“It will add to the vibrancy,” said Lisa Dixon of the Alliance for Pioneer Square. “The arts piece will definitely draw people down, but it’s the biggest transit hub in the city, and for so many people to have access via public transit to an art hub is really exciting.”

ARTS will be using its existing budget, which draws from the city’s admission tax, for the move in January 2017.