A $1.8 billion addition to the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle now faces a $300 million “gap in financing capacity” due to drops in lodging-tax revenue in King County. Leaders say that without federal stimulus funding, the project will face costly delays.
When the COVID-19 public health emergency halted tourism and dried up hospitality and lodging revenues that help fund the convention center project, project construction was 30 percent complete with nearly 90 percent of materials ordered.
“Within a year, construction on this project will come to a halt if we don’t secure federal financing assistance for the project,” says Matt Griffin, principal at Pine Street Group, the project’s developer, in a press call. “This project has the potential to be one of our region’s most important economic recovery tools. Delaying it would be a huge loss for our community.”
Proponents of the convention center call it a key to future recovery, but Griffin says construction will need to stop within 10 to 12 months without additional funding.
The addition is currently scheduled to open in early 2022 and be ready in spring 2022 to welcome the 30 conventions already booked in the building. The convention center had scheduled its final round of financing to complete the addition’s construction for this year and next. With the revenue drop from tourism and lodging tax to back bonds, financing is in question. Project leaders say a delay would bring additional costs to the project, while harming the center’s opportunity to do business.
“Conventions are already booked for years out that will use the new space,” says Jeff Blosser, president and CEO of the Washington State Convention Center.
Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle, says the convention center is a key part of the area’s $8 billion tourism industry and worries Seattle’s recovery could be delayed if the construction project gets slowed.
If a lack of funding forces construction to stop, convention center officials expect up to 2,000 union jobs will be delayed or lost. “The WSCC Addition project provides important opportunities for underrepresented contractors, workers and apprentices in our region,” says Monty Anderson, executive secretary of Seattle Building & Construction. “I worry about the thousands of family-wage jobs that will be lost if construction ceases on this project.”
General contractor Clark Lewis — a joint venture between Lease Crutcher Lewis of Seattle and Clark Construction Group — began construction on the addition in July 2018. The project is expected to add $100 million to the region in construction sales tax. Once open, the addition, known as Summit, is forecast to create about 3,900 new, ongoing jobs and generate approximately $260 million in new customer spending and $19 million in sales tax annually.
Seattle-based LMN Architects designed a 1.5 million sq ft, 11-story building. The addition will fill four downtown blocks and include a pedestrian connection to the existing center a strong link to Pike Place Market and the Waterfront upgrades and underground parking for 800 vehicles.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington responded to the call for aid, saying in a statement that she is exploring what can be done at the federal level.