King County hands out ‘critical’ $100M loan for imperiled Convention Center renovation

Dec 3, 2020, 4:10 PM
Washington State Convention Center, Seattle downtown...
The Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle. (Andrew Taylor, Flickr Creative Commons)

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Thursday that the county will be distributing a $100 million loan to help aid in ongoing renovations to the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.

Convention Center expansion in jeopardy as pandemic decimates tourism

Ground broke on Convention Center renovations in 2018, for a project that will end up costing roughly $1.9 billion. This renovation is widely considered to be one of the most expensive construction projects the region has ever seen, and is viewed by many as crucial to fueling Seattle’s tourism industry once it is completed.

The pandemic derailed the project in May, though, leading to a $300 million budget shortfall that threatened to mothball the work entirely. The project was 30% complete, with nearly 90% of the materials ordered, when the COVID crisis shuttered the entire tourism sector of the state’s economy.

The $100 million loan from King County won’t cover that entire quantity, but is still viewed as a necessity in ensuring the future of the Convention Center, as well as maintaining an estimated 1,000 construction jobs.

“We have the opportunity to make sure this vitally important project is able to go ahead,” King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said during a Thursday press conference. “In turn, we will be able to maintain thousands of construction jobs, and put us into a position to bounce back quickly once the pandemic and recession is behind us.”

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Constantine said that he is “absolutely confident” that the loan will be paid back in full with 1% interest, noting that “the revenue sources are already in place.” Visit Seattle CEO Tom Norwalk pointed out there are already 32 confirmed conventions on the books when the facility reopens fully in 2022, representing “a large segment of the local travel and tourism industry.”

“We’ve seen excellent demand for future groups and conventions,” Norwalk said Thursday.

Project developer Matt Griffin said that he hopes that discussions at the city, county, and state level will eventually help the Convention Center cover the remaining $200 million it needs to cover the cost of its pandemic losses.

KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott contributed to this report

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King County hands out ‘critical’ $100M loan for imperiled Convention Center renovation