Business News

$2 Billion Expansion Boosts Seattle’s Event Appeal

Skift Take

$2 billion is a high price to pay for extending the Seattle Convention Center. But this investment is not just about hosting more events, it's also about revitalizing the city's neglected downtown core.

Summit, a new extension of the Seattle Convention Center (SCC), opened on Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting event. The new building more than doubles the space available for events at the city’s main convention space.

A sold-out Public Open House event today is the first opportunity for the local community to see the building up close. The site has been under construction since August 2018, with the Covid pandemic partly to blame for delays.

“We at Visit Seattle are excited to continue to build the momentum for Seattle’s convention business in that same spirit of collaboration and excellence,” said Visit Seattle’s president & CEO, Tammy Canavan.

At least 58 events are already booked at Summit, including Emerald City Comic ConSakura-Con 2023AWP Conference & Bookfair, the Association of American Medical Colleges’ annual meeting, and the NorthWest Event Show.

Venue Specifications

The $2 billion expansion is North America’s first high-rise convention center. The Summit is adjacent to the SCC’s two other buildings; Arch at 705 Pike, the SCC’s main building; and Arch at 800 Pike, the SCC’s Conference Center.

Key features include: 

  • 573,770 square feet of event space
  • 248,450 square feet of exhibit space
  • 62 meeting rooms
  • One 58,000-square-foot column-free and divisible ballroom
  • 140,700 square feet of naturally lit lobby space
  • 14,000-square-foot outdoor Garden Terrace

There are 7,000 hotel rooms within a six-block radius. Link light rail and other public transportation are close, and so is Interstate 5, which provides direct access to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

One of the first events to use all of the new space available at Summit is the upcoming NorthWest Event Show. This two-day events industry gathering focusing on the west coast expects to gather more than 5,000 event professionals on 15-16 March. “We’re really proud to help introduce the Summit to the Seattle Convention Center’s growing campus designed to usher in the future of meetings, events and conventions,” said Stuart Butler, president of the Northwest Event Show and Butler Seattle.

Significant Investment

The project is almost entirely funded by King County’s lodging tax, with a 7 percent fee on hotel stays in Seattle and a 2.8 percent fee in King County outside Seattle. Looking further ahead, the SCC will be adding almost a million square feet of residential and office space.

The SCC claims to have turned away proposals for over 350 events from 2012 to 2015 due to a lack of capacity. These events would have added an estimated $2.13 billion in economic benefit to the region.

Between 2016 and 2019, the SCC hosted an average of 269 events and 390,141 attendees per year. However, during the Covid pandemic, those numbers dropped to 29 events and 80,025 attendees.

The SCC estimates the expansion will bring in an additional $260 million in visitor spending annually and create 3,900 direct and indirect jobs.

Although SCC can now host citywide conventions weekly – something that president and CEO Jeff Blosser is keen on – the SCC’s stated focus is on operating multiple events across all its sites simultaneously and out of sync.

Revitalizing Downtown

The site was previously home to Seattle’s Convention Place bus station. Expanding Seattle’s central meeting space in this way is also an investment in the city’s downtown core. 

It’s no secret that downtown Seattle has lost vibrancy, struggling to recover the pre-Covid pandemic buzz. Nike, Amazon, and Facebook all closed stores or offices in recent years. The SCC’s central location makes it a vital part of the city’s downtown revitalization plans. 

“A lot of other cities site their convention centers on the edge of town. In Seattle, we take those big projects to the heart of our city which creates more vibrancy for downtown,” said Downtown Seattle Association President and CEO Jon Scholes, reported GeekWire.

Sustainability Credentials

The SCC expects the Summit building to be certified as a green building to achieve LEED Gold level at least. The building was constructed in an environmentally friendly way, and it uses a variety of sustainably sourced recycled materials. Solar panels and a rainwater harvesting system are among the building’s sustainability credentials that will make a difference for any event’s sustainability credentials.

There are various visible efforts to connect with the local community. The most obvious is “Mowitch Man”, a statue that welcomes guests to Summit. Local artist Andrea Wilbur-Sigo, a member of the Squaxin Island Tribe, used a 20-foot western red cedar log to create a 2,500-pound statue. It is a welcome figure that traditionally welcomes visitors to tribal territories. Summit also features one of the largest window shade systems in the world, custom created by local women-owned company lumenomics.

“The addition of the $2 billion dollar Summit not only enlarges the Seattle Convention Centers’ footprint but underscores Seattle’s history of incorporating our key principles of bringing people together in an environment conducive to business, creativity and connection,” said Butler.

Photo credit: Yiyang / Unsplash