Urban Politics #21: Convention Center “Skybridges” ?

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • Convention Center “Skybridges” ?
  • Revelations From Seahawk’s Pdc Forms
  • Seahawk Ballot Title Changed
  • Supreme Court To Held Hearing Today

Convention Center “Skybridges” ?

The large Master Use Permit Notice/Bulletin Board announcing the expansion of the Convention Center across Pine Street and 8th Street has been on the SE corner of 7th and Pike for 2 months. A total of 5 letters commenting on it has been received by the City’s DCLU. All from residents of a nearby apartment building complaining the impending structure.

Although citizen groups like Allied Arts did not comment, that group did hold an Important meeting last month with City staff Matt Lampe and the Convention Center President John Christison. Clint Pehrson, President of Allied Arts along with noted urban design critics, David Sucher, Greg Hill and John Pastier failed to convince the Convention Center to scale back their project.

If the Center’s request is approved by the City, they will get two “aerial vacations” on Pine St. One, is a city block long measuring approximately 240 feet and the other is half as long. The first will have a huge canopy covering its entire length. The Center argues that the canopy will provide rain protection for the pedestrians below. However, as Pehrson points out, “There are examples all over downtown where there are healthy retail stores without the entire street being covered. If they want to protect pedestrians, awnings will do.”

Although the bridges over Pine St. are often referred to as “sky bridges”, Pehrson notes that technically they are not. “Sky bridges” are defined by ordinance and subject to being periodically renewed. Because the Center is actually applying for “aerial vacations” the Center will become the permanent owner of them. Pehrson fears that once approved, the City’s control of the air rights over these streets is legally removed. Consequently, at a later date the Center could widen either of the two bridges on Pine St. to the full length of the aerial vacations without having to gain permission from the City.

“When you add the bridges over 8th St. to the new proposed ones over Pine St., this whole section of the city ends up dark and not owned by the City.”

The first bridge will be 50 ft off the ground and will be a 95 foot wide pedestrian mall connecting the Center’s new facility with its old one. The Center maintains that with its glass walls, it will hardly be noticed. Nevertheless the walls will be reflective and not allow for the transmission of light through them. The other vacation will have a 35 foot wide ramp serving trucks driving between the two structures.

Greg Hill did come up with a unique alternative to building the ramp. He suggested looking into the use of truck lifts. The Port already uses one. It’s an alternative that does not appear to have been investigated and one that could eliminate the need for a truck ramp that crosses Pine Street just as it descends from Capitol Hill.

Another effort might be to strengthen the link between downtown and Capitol Hill by expanding the lip of Pike Street over I-5 to allow for shallow depth business fronts that could serve a variety of small retail outlets like espresso and magazine stands.

Unfortunately these more innovative ideas have not been pursued. The Public Design Commission might have been one of the arenas in which to discuss them, but apparently they did not and they did issue a written report on the Center’s vacation requests.

Revelations From Seahawk’s Pdc Forms

Football Northwest, according to the May 10th Public Disclosure Commission L-6 Report, spent a total of $1.7 million in its successful lobbying effort to get the State Legislature to publicly fund their new football stadium. Both Gogerty and Stark and Tupper Public Affairs (Sue Tupper) were listed as the campaign organizers. Just during the month of April they received a total of $222,000 in consulting and public relations fees. During that same month only 2 people or organizations were identified as contributing to this lobbying effort: Friends of Jan Drago ($25) and Ron Sims for King Co. Exec. ($400). BTW- Sims still has not released the operations report done by the Kingdome staff which apparently shows the facility as being self-supporting.

Seahawk Ballot Title Changed

The Thurston County Superior Court ruled in favor of the Seahawks by allowing the ballot title on June 17th to describe the new stadium as a “football/soccer” stadium. There currently is no soccer team in the northwest. In addition any soccer team using the stadium will be a tenant paying rent to Football Northwest. They also would have to ask Paul Allen for any revenue generated from advertizing, parking or the concesessions, since by law it all goes to him. Why would a possible tenant’s use of a building be on the ballot title other than to win over undecided voters? Seems that the judge was being more political than logical in reaching his decision.

And consider the future. If the soccer team cannot make it financially what will stop them from asking for tax money to stop them from leaving the area? They certainly can look at the success that the Mariners and Seahawks have had in making that pitch.

At the same time, there is no mention of demolishing the Kingdome in the ballot title. Unlike the use of the stadium by soccer, the demolition of the Kingdome was part of the state legislation.

Supreme Court To Held Hearing Today

The County’s suit against Initiative 16 finally went before the Supreme Court today. The County is alleging that the initiative cannot be applied to the Mariner Stadium because the decision was made by the State Legislature and cannot be overruled by a vote of the King County Voters.

There are also other issues that the court has to decide on. For instance it must rule on whether the issue of what constitutes an adequate rate of return on the stadium is something that must be determined or whether the Mariner’s commitment to play so many games per season is sufficient to establish an adequate rate of return.

There is also a technical but very powerful argument that the uniformity of the tax code among all counties is being violated because a portion of the state sales tax is being funneled back to King County to support just the stadium. This is the same mechanism that is being proposed to partially fund the Seahawks Football Stadium.

The Supreme Court could make a decision within a week or it could take as long as nine months, which is how long it took the last time a suit concerning the Mariner Stadium came before it. The Public Facility District, which technically is building the baseball stadium, is quickly running out of funds to maintain its construction schedule. They need to have funds within the next 30 days or they will need to borrow more funds from the Mariners. They’ve already loaned the PFD $ 5 million towards construction costs and they are charging PFD interest on that loan.

Expect the Court to wait until after the June 17th vote on the Seahawks stadium. Remember the Court Justices are up for election every 4 years. They may want to see which way the wind is blowing on the public’s tolerance towards public funding of stadiums before they issue their decision on the Mariner’s stadium.

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