Washington State Fixes Funding Gap for Convention Center Expansion

About $342 million in municipal bonds have been sold, allowing construction to continue on the new building in Seattle, which opens in summer 2022.

Rendering of the expanded Washington State Convention Center
Rendering of the expanded Washington State Convention Center

During the good times pre-2020, the Washington State Convention Center was in the midst of an expansion, which was being financed by hospitality taxes, but a coronavirus-induced financing crisis put a halt to the project. On March 31, it was announced that the sale of about $342 million in municipal bonds has closed the financing gap and will allow construction to be completed on the additional building, called the Summit.

According to the facility, this private-funding solution replaces the need for loans from King County, the city of Seattle and the state, which had been under consideration to offset the financing shortfall. The gap resulted from the pandemic-fueled collapse of the tourism sector in 2020 and the subsequent drop in lodging-tax revenue to back a long-planned second bond issuance.

“We are so grateful to the leadership of the county, city and state for considering loans to bridge the financing gap,” said Frank Finneran, a hotel developer who is chair of the WSCC board of directors. “Recent changes in the financing markets have made it possible for us to instead issue a second round of bonds, as we have always intended to do.”

The Summit building will add about 250,000 square feet of exhibit space to the facility, about 125,000 square feet of meeting rooms and a 58,000-square-foot ballroom, doubling the convention center's current capacity. 

According to the WSCC, without the new bonds the expansion project would have had to shut down this spring, about a year before its scheduled completion date in summer 2022. Construction now will be able to maintain a workforce that is expected to grow to 1,000 people this summer, according to Matt Griffin, principal and managing partner of the Pine Street Group, construction consultants working on the project. The WSCC says the job-site population is composed of more than 30 percent people of color and about 25 percent from distressed ZIP codes; more than 15 percent are apprentices building family-wage careers.

The WSCC says it also is investing $93 million of the project funds into community improvements such as funding for affordable housing, parks and open spaces; improvements to Pike and Pine streets between downtown and Capitol Hill; bicycle infrastructure, and more. Once open, the Summit is expected to create about 3,900 new, ongoing jobs — many in hospitality — and generate approximately $260 million in new customer spending and $19 million in sales tax per year.

The city and state hope the construction and the new building will spur the recovery of the regional hospitality sector, which employs up to 80,000 people in King County. With its commitment to diversity, the WSCC says the project is also central to ensuring that the area’s recovery is inclusive and supports long-term economic vitality.