EDITORS NOTE: You probably have heard that we won $83 million for walking, biking, parks, and affordable housing paid for by the Washington State Convention Center expansion project, but have you heard the full story? Let Central Seattle Greenways co-leader Brie Gyncild tell you the inside story of how it all came together.
Story by Brie Gyncild, Central Seattle Greenways.
What's an alley worth? Or the area underneath a city street? When a developer asks to assume public property for private development, it’s called a street or alley "vacation" and they have to provide a commensurate public benefit. The Washington State Convention Center required alley and underground street vacations to make their project work and therefore they needed to provide public benefits.
Use of public resources—what do we, the public, get back in exchange?
The proposed Washington State Convention Center Addition is a colossal undertaking, with a design that depends on the City vacating multiple alleys and the right of way under some major downtown streets. The $1.6 billion expansion is one of the largest developments in Seattle history and is to be built on publicly owned land, by a public entity, and using public funding.
Seizing the opportunity to shape the project’s public benefits, several community groups and nonprofits set about advocating—separately—to have their individual projects included in the public benefits package.
For our part, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways was focused on obtaining funding for protected bike lanes in the Pike/Pine corridor and on 8th Avenue, as well as pedestrian safety improvements on the I-5 overpasses on Pike Street, Pine Street, and Olive Way. Other organizations were advocating for improvements to Freeway Park, a Lid I-5 feasibility study, affordable housing, funding for the Terry Avenue woonerf, and other worthy projects.
But we recognized that we'd be stronger if we worked together to gain the investments the community needs most: public open spaces, safe routes for people walking and biking, and homes affordable to working families.
So, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways convened a coalition of transportation, parks, and affordable housing organizations to fight for a fair deal. The Community Package Coalition, as we call ourselves, is made up of our own neighborhood groups Central Seattle Greenways and the First Hill Improvement Association, as well as Capitol Hill Housing, Cascade Bicycle Club, the Freeway Park Association, the Housing Development Consortium, Lid I-5, and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.
Pooling our limited resources, we galvanized public support through months of public outreach, public tours of the convention center sites and the benefits included in the Community Package, meetings with City Council members, public comment at Seattle Design Commission meetings, and significant press coverage.
Thousands of hours of effort paid off when we successfully negotiated $61 million in public benefits with the developer of the Convention Center Addition. This investment, in addition to the $20 million already proposed by the Convention Center, is commensurate with the scale of the vacation petition and is comparable to other recent large, multi-block developments.
An historic win: $83 million in public benefits!
We didn't get everything we wanted; negotiations often require compromise. But the final public benefits package is four times the size of the developer's original offer, and ultimately, the community will receive safer biking and walking infrastructure, affordable housing, and much-needed open space.
After we reached an agreement with Pine Street Group (the developer of the WSCC Addition), the City Council unanimously approved the vacation and proposed benefits on May 7, granting the Pine Street Group its necessary permits.
Seattle Neighborhood Greenways is proud to be part of the Community Package Coalition and its successful partnership with WSCC to realize a shared vision of building a well-connected, accessible, people-centered city with opportunity and benefits for all. This achievement demonstrates what is possible when community groups band together and work to reach a fair deal with developers.
While the Community Package Coalition has provided a great example of how community groups and developers can work together to create a powerful legacy, we recognize that this took a significant amount of effort and that not all communities may be able to replicate our efforts.That’s why we're pleased that on May 21, City Council passed a resolution to update the city’s right-of-way vacation policies, making the process easier for communities that have fewer resources, and providing clarity for developers about the value of street and alley vacations and the types of public benefits that are needed.
In the end, we not only won an amazing list of public benefits (see the map above) from the Washington State Convention Center, but also changed the system itself to be more accessible, equitable, and result in more fair deals for our public land.
My own personal take: Nothing like this has been done before, and the process required creativity, persistence, and trust that we could work together. Not only did we pave the way for future community benefits wins, but we developed strong relationships among the coalition partners along the way.
Inspired by this community-driven victory? Pitch in to help make more outcomes like this possible.