Let's get one thing straight—there will be an expanded Washington State Convention & Trade Center shading the streets just west of Interstate 5. Even City Council member Peter Steinbrueck, who rankled a few of his veteran colleagues with a three-page list of concerns about the building that won't stop growing, finds it unlikely that the city would deny the center's request to extend its new addition over parts of Pike Street and Eighth Avenue.
But permission will come at a price. If you accept the council's assurances that lidding downtown streets is a one-time, one-shot, only-for-the-convention-center deal, the good folks at WSCTC (their lyrical acronym) are getting something of great value. And, with members of the Pike/ Pine neighborhood planning committee pushing a list of $1.7 million in possible mitigation efforts, you'd think center managers would get the hint. Richard McIver, chair of the council's transportation committee, understates the obvious: "I think the council would love to see the convention center display an extremely generous good-neighbor quality."
Although convention center officials are fond of the mantra that mitigation must be directly related to impacts, there's no doubt that the plan to build two megaskybridges over Pike Street has definite drawbacks for the neighborhood. Even with the fancy arched glass canopy that designers envision over Pike Street, the newly shaded corridor won't be a particularly attractive pedestrian route (the big glass arch looks more like the main entrance to the center itself than the "gateway to the Pike/Pine neighborhood"). Related item: The neighbors have $327,000 in proposed pedestrian improvements. Construction of the complicated skybridges will be a massive, street-closing effort. Related item: There's $310,000 in proposed construction mitigation on the list. And so on.
Of course, center officials have reason to look weary when the topic of further mitigation arises. They've already shelled out $5 million to replace the housing displaced by the expansion, among other mitigation expenses. As the convention center is a state agency, management doesn't have the power to simply write a check, notes general manager John Christison. "The neighborhood representatives say, 'We don't want to sit down with you unless you have a number on the table,'" he says. "We just can't take that approach."
Council member Nick Licata suggests that the convention center just scrap the big glass arch and use the extra money for the improvements neighbors want. But he isn't confident that any significant changes can be made to the two proposed skybridges (a truck bridge big enough to handle semis and 120-foot-wide connector between the old and new exhibition halls). "Those are going to happen. I don't see any way around it," Licata says. In order to force extensive design changes, "the battle should have occurred two years ago."
Of course, the biggest impacts of the WSCTC expansion—and the hardest to mitigate—come from the fact that the resulting building will be big and ugly. Convention centers, by design, are huge, windowless boxes. And the new portion of the center can't duplicate the few nice architectural touches of the original center, which relates well to Freeway Park, has a nice main entrance with shops and a multi-story atrium, and . . . well, that's all we could think of. "I think the new one is going to make the old one look better," grumbled one design critic.
Hey, for a convention center, that's distinction enough.
Free the posters
Organizers call it "Free Speech Seattle," but the effort to allow posters on Seattle lamp posts and utility poles has a new, official name: Initiative 46. Backers of restoring the city's cheapest form of advertising are now only 19,000 signatures away from putting the issue before voters. The 180-day-long petition campaign (the clock started ticking on February 25) will feature benefit concerts and a voter registration drive.
Those friendly folks at the Quadrant Corp. a.k.a. Weyerhaeuser's development arm, are getting a bit testy about their court battle with the Fremont Neighborhood Council. The FNC lost its Superior Court challenge of a permit extension that the city granted to Quadrant's Lake Union Center project, but have announced plans to appeal. In a chilly letter to FNC attorney Toby Thaler, Quadrant attorney G. Richard Hill announced that the construction giant considers the appeal "frivolous" and will try to force the activist group to reimburse any legal fees required to fight it. Hill also asked for a roster of the group's board of directors, saying that if the FNC lacks the funds to pay up, Quadrant will attempt to hold board members personally liable. Glad they're not letting that "live and let live" Fremont spirit cramp their corporate style.
You don't say
To succeed in Olympia, you've got to speak the language. City lobbyist Susan Crowley demonstrated her grasp of this foreign tongue last week with her progress report on the city's legislative agenda. "I'm not sure if the House versions of those bills will move, in part, because of some sort of internal dynamics." Translation: The committee chair hates us city slickers.
Aiming to please
As proof that no large corporation can completely ignore sustained and loudly voiced public contempt, TCI Cable is attempting to re-create itself as a customer-service dynamo. In a recent groveling letter to TCI customers, chief operating officer Bill Fitzgerald promises to make "all aspects of your cable experience great." Only if you unplug Home Shopping Network and the Bible Channel.