Working for a safe, affordable, vibrant, innovative, and interconnected city.
Learn More Home Page This Department
Link to Fleets and Facilities Home Page Link to Finance and Administrative Services Home Page Link to Fleets and Facilities About Us Page Link to Fleets and Facilities Contact Us Page
Stewards of the City of Seattle's business and financial services Fred Podesta, Director

Active Bids

Fire Levy Program

Vehicle Auctions

City Hall
Justice Center
Civic Plaza
Seattle Municipal Tower
Civic Center Home

Seattle Municipal Civic Center Master Plan
June 1999

Back To Table of Contents :: On To Section 5: Inventory & Analysis

Section 4 - The Program

Illustration 1: City Hall Program Elements (Step One)

Options for the Civic Center program have been examined thoroughly over the past several years. The program includes not only the location of various City functions, but also the disposition of various City owned properties. Five options that have received serious consideration are outlined here.

It is important to note that the program is based on the current needs of the City. The master plan, however, envisions a Civic Center that will be able to accommodate the needs of the City of Seattle far into the future. This need for flexibility over time highlights the importance of retaining long-term options for City owned property. For this reason, the arrangement for development on the Public Safety Building block is recommended to be a long-term lease arrangement rather than outright sale, in order to keep options open for City use of the property for future generations.

City Hall Open Space Program

Review of the consultants work to date on the Municipal Civic Center Master Plan by the Oversight Committee, and comments from the December 18th Public Workshop, have highlighted the importance of the public open space component of the master plan. The open space must accommodate a variety of functions, not the least of which is knitting together the individual buildings of the Civic Center into a cohesive whole. While there is general agreement on the importance of public open space, specifics about the nature, function, character and configuration of open space are still emerging.

The following is an outline of some of the thinking regarding objectives for a Civic Center open space program:

Accommodate Multiple Functions

Adaptable open space is needed to accommodate a wide variety of activities and many different users. While all agree on the importance of open space, there is concern about striking the right balance between providing open space and creating the right conditions for ensuring its active use. The overall amount of open space, and the size and configuration of open space areas, should reflect the types of activity and overall intensity of development accommodated on the Civic Center sites. Providing too much space or the wrong type of space without sufficient activity to enliven it will deaden the complex. Open space functions that the Civic Center should accommodate include:

  • Civic space for public gatherings.

    The size, siting and design of open space should accommodate large public events, performances, gatherings and celebrations. In addition to accommodating these activities, the design of the open space should communicate the symbolic importance of this public place. Fourth Avenue is an established parade route already, and a potential relationship to future open space should be explored. There may also be opportunities to provide open space that complements government functions, such as informal gatherings of citizens before Council meetings, either in exterior or interior lobby spaces accessible to the Council Chambers, or other spaces that provide opportunities for elected officials, City employees, etc. to meet informally and brush shoulders with the public.

  • Neighborhood open space.

    While shared by the whole city, the civic center is also part of a downtown neighborhood and provides an opportunity to address some of the open space needs of that community. Providing open space for use by the substantial employment population in the area can introduce needed breathing room and help enliven the Civic Center. The conversion of the Morrison and Lyons Building to housing, and possible reuse of City buildings, like the Alaska Building, for housing, contribute to a growing residential population along Third Avenue. There is also potential for a substantial amount of housing in the residential Highrise zone just east of I-5 on First Hill. Open space adaptable to the needs of this population should be explored to further enliven the space, especially after weekday work hours and on weekends, when this part of downtown shuts down. There has also been interest in accommodating a downtown neighborhood community center or meeting facility in the Civic Center, which also present possibilities for open space use.

  • Gardens.

    In general, open space that is flexible and can accommodate a variety of functions is desirable. In addressing the size, siting and design of open space, bold statements that make a strong impression are appropriate, but should be balanced with elements that provide complexity and intimacy. To that end, gardens should be an important component of the overall design, providing a contrast to large, hard surface spaces. The fact that gardens require a high level of maintenance should be recognized and addressed; the commitment to including gardens should be a commitment to providing a public space that will be well tended.

  • Open space for City employees and other building occupants.

    All downtown development is required to provide open space for the use of building occupants and visitors. Today, employees have access to the Municipal Buildings roof garden, a plaza by the Public Safety Building, and plaza space and interior arcades in the Gateway Tower. The open space program should ensure that space is meets the needs of this group, so that the working population of the Civic Center also contributes to the liveliness of its public spaces.

  • Space for human service activity.

    The existing open spaces in the area are used to accommodate human service activities, such as the lunch feeding program at the Public Safety Building plaza. Because the Civic Center is part of the downtown community and serves all citizens, these activities should continue to be accommodated. However, it is important that these activities be planned for and balance with other desired uses. This may require accommodating special types of spaces, both interior and exterior, as well as setting a manageable limit on the amount of this activity that can be accommodated within the Civic Center.

Increase Accessibility

Open space should enhance movement within and through the Civic Center. The following factors should be considered as opportunities for improving overall accessibility and activating the area by encouraging a steady flow of pedestrians:

  • Transit station entrance.

    Integrating open space with the light rail station on the Public Safety Building block provides a major opportunity to emphasize this important transit portal and influence pedestrian circulation so that transit riders passing through the area help activate the space. Open space should be integrated with station access to enhance connections with various Civic Center sites. Mechanical assists needed to reach the tunnel could potentially be extended as hillclimbs providing access to upper blocks.
  • Pedestrian circulation.

    Third, Fourth and Fifth Avenues are all major transit streets with heavily used bus loading areas. Streets traversing the Civic Center provide east/west links between First Hill and Pioneer Square and north/south links between Pioneer Square/International District and the central downtown area. Civic Center open space should be integrated with the street environment to enhance pedestrian circulation, accommodate transit loading and reinforce connections to adjacent areas.
  • Topography.

    One of the biggest challenges for the Civic Center is making the area accessible given the significant change in elevation from Third Avenue to Fifth Avenue; a climb of about 70 feet. Open space should help "sculpt" this hillside to make pedestrian movement easier and more pleasant. While a constraint to pedestrian movement, the topography is also a unique characteristic of the site that the open space layout should build upon rather than obscure or ignore.

Enhance Identity

In addition to the architecture of the buildings in the Civic Center, open space should create a strong sense of identity for the area. To achieve this sense of identity, consider the following:

  • Overall legibility.

    Open space should help unify individual buildings within the civic center, and integrate the civic center, physically and functionally, with adjacent areas. The siting and design of the open space should enhance the function of the Civic Center by defining its "center" and communicating how buildings should be approached, which buildings are related to each other, where principal entrances are located, etc. Use open space to establish a strong physical connection between the two blocks east and west of Fourth Avenue, identifying this area as the center of the Civic Center. Interior public areas should have strong connections to public open space.
  • Gateway.

    Fourth Avenue is a major route into downtown from the south. The siting and design of open space visible form Fourth Avenue should take advantage of the opportunity to identify the Civic Center and provide a gateway into the heart of downtown.
  • Views.

    Views made possible through the siting of open space in relation to buildings in and around the Civic Center should help integrate the center with its surroundings and contribute to the areas identity. Spaces should enhance views of adjacent historic structures and, where possible, Elliott Bay. The "backdrop" provided by surrounding development can enhance the aesthetic quality of the open space and should be considered. Visual connections possible at open space locations should help orient people in the Civic Center.
  • Details.

    Design, landscaping, materials, and public art should be inspired by the characteristics of the Pacific Northwest, and be compatible with positive qualities of surrounding development. The details should provide the complexity to balance bold design statements. Materials should be of highest quality to communicate a sense of permanence and the importance of this public place. Portions of the open space may be designed as gardens with planting representative of this climate and the northwest. Plantings should reflect the seasons through changing colors and textures. The gardens should require maintenance and care, thus reflecting the Citys concern for the environment and its citizens.

Enhance Massing

The Civic Center is on the edge of a transition area separating historic Pioneer Square and the International District from the modern skyscrapers of the office district. The siting of open space and Civic Center buildings should contribute to a graceful transition between these areas.

Civic Center buildings should be sited and programmed to strongly define open space areas and promote interaction between interior activities and public outdoor spaces. Building uses at the open space level should complement and, to the extent possible, contribute activity to abutting open space. Orient outdoor spaces for maximum light and sun access.

Integrate Civic Center with Surroundings

Open space should help promote the physical relationship desired with surrounding development and complement activity in adjacent areas. The opportunity to use open space to integrate the City and County sites on opposing sides of James Street should be encouraged, especially on the block facing the King County Courthouse. Consideration should be given to how open space might be sited as an element of a comprehensive network of open space and public street improvements desired within downtown.

City Hall Program Elements (Phase 2)

The intersection of 4th Avenue and Cherry Street is a critical corner of the Municipal Building site. It presents an opportunity to link the Civic Center with the life and activity of the surrounding downtown neighborhood. On the southeast corner of the block, at the top of the hill, the more formal structure housing the Council Chambers provides a symbol of City government. In contrast, the 4th Avenue corner would be a place for a variety of everyday activities, providing other opportunities for people to gather, mingle, enjoy the adjacent open spacein short, to participate in public life

The site possesses many features that make it well suited as a center of activity. This stretch of Fourth Avenue has a high volume of pedestrians, with active transit stops all day. A building on this corner would have access to pedestrians from 4th Avenue, from different levels of the open space terracing up the hill, and from the arcade connecting Cherry Street with the main open space about midway up the hill between 4th and 5th Avenues. Hillclimbs from the light rail tunnel station will deposit people nearby. The use of this space should capitalize on this accessibility; it should provide people with an attractive alternative to Columbia Center for services.

An appropriate treatment of this corner should address the following:

  1. Create an urban "rest stop." This is a place for people to come for refreshmentwhether for food available from vendors and retail spaces, quiet reflection of art displayed in public areas or on gallery walls, rest at vantage points providing views of the street and open space; meeting and people watching, or seeking a variety of other services catering to City employees, the general public, and people with special needs.

  2. Introduce a variety of activity generating uses. This space will be key to generating the activity needed to enliven the adjacent public open spacethe public living room opening onto the plaza. Its multiple functions should attract people from all walks of life, during the work day and after hours. Uses to consider include:
  • gallery space for displaying Citys public art collection;
  • space to display items related to Citys history;
  • meeting space, conference and/or class rooms for downtown community organizations, training, public receptions, community workshops, etc.;
  • retail, service and food vendors;
  • flexible, open areas for informal gathering;
  • office space for boards, commissions, human services;
  • space for community resources (computer center),
  • public information center/kiosk, public media center, video library, etc.,
  • storage for equipment for open space maintenance, vending carts, etc.,
  • government research library,
  • human services (lunch food program, emergency shelter space),
  • roof gardens/terraces, and,
  • rest area, restroom facilities.

Multiple use of spaces is desirable. Retail space and other activity generating uses should be located along street frontages and open space perimeters. Ground level floors should be as open as possible. Entrances from Cherry Street Arcade and open space terraces should be taken advantage of to provide clear, easy access to different building levels. Perhaps locate homeless lunch program/emergency shelter area on upper level(s), accessible from Cherry Street Arcade, with various staging areas along route to accommodate lines and avoid having this activity appear to "take over" entire public area. Area where food is dispensed could have access to outdoor space on upper level setback terrace or rooftop.

  1. Achieve a special quality of space. The building and its various levels should be opena "permeable" building with multiple entrances to bring people inside from various grades along the street, from the open space terraces, and from the Cherry Street arcade; transparent walls making interior activity visible from the outside; interior atrium/gallery spaces that open interior floors up to each other vertically; plaza terraces should "flow" into the building, strengthening the connection between interior and exterior areas. As an interior public place, it should be a light, open contrast to the enclosed alternative at Columbia Center. Siting and design should draw people to it from surrounding buildings, streets, and the transit tunnel station. The lower height of this structure should distinguish it from the abutting administrative wing of the municipal building and provide scale relief on the edge of the open space, while maintaining a strong street edge on the corner.

Program elements that are symbolic and unique to a Civic Center, such as the Mayor and Council Chambers, should be expressed and emphasized. Consider including additional program elements that are customer related, such as DCLU. One approach to customer service would be to cluster the various services in a public space.

Additional Civic Uses

The Civic Center would be greatly strengthened by the addition of a cultural institution of some kind. The Burke Museum or a satellite campus such as the University of Washington government studies would emphasize the civic nature of the precinct and attract people and activities.

Activating the Civic Center for 18 hours a day is a priority, and must be reflected in the selection of program elements. Arts related uses, meeting space, and a community center for the downtown residents should be considered, along with housing where appropriate.

Parking Requirements

The Civic Center should include a modest amount of parking beneath City Hall, located within the envelope of the excavation for the existing parking. This parking would serve the building itself with city vehicles, some employee parking, ADA accessible parking, and drop-off from cars. Short term visitors parking should be a priority so that citizens can easily use the customer service functions. A port cochere below ground should be considered, along with street level drop-off. Ideally, ingress and egress would be off of Cherry Street.

A larger reservoir of public parking should be below the PSB site, again using the area already excavated for existing parking. Access should be off of James Street, with egress to Cherry.

These two blocks of the Civic Center are not envisioned as parking for the Justice Center Building. The City is negotiating the purchase of the SeaPark Garage to the east of the Justice Center to satisfy public parking needs for both the Justice Center and City Hall.

No above grade parking should be allowed.


Housing may be appropriate for the Alaska Building, and possibly for private development along 3rd Avenue. Encouraging housing in these areas would enliven the area beyond business hours. Housing should not be included on the block with City Hall.

Additional Community Elements

The priorities for various programs should come from community and City direction. However, a multiplicity of uses could be incorporated into the design of the Civic Center in a gracious way.

Social services are currently being provided on the site, with a feeding program on the PSB plaza and night time shelter for men in the lobby of the Municipal Building. These programs should not be reduced with construction of the new Civic Center, and could be integrated on the site with a dedicated entry and potentially an dedicated level providing a sense of privacy for those needing services. The level of social services provided needs to be balanced so as to not interfere with the primary uses of the Civic Center, and planning for these programs needs to be sensitive to neighboring uses.

A day care center is included within the Civic Center program, which could replace the existing facility in the Alaska Building. Other programs serving the increasing population of downtown residents may be appropriate at the Civic Center, including meeting and/or class rooms, arts related uses, a recreational facility, and possibly a city information center.

The Properties

The following discussion of City-owned properties is based on real estate analysis by The Seneca Real Estate Group. The specific analysis of these properties and their relationship to the preferred option of the master plan is included in Section 10: References.

Cordes Site

The Cordes site is the half block between James and Cherry Streets east of 5th Avenue. A new building will be placed on this site to house the Municipal Courts and Police Administration offices. The site consists of approximately 26,400 square feet and is zoned DOC-I. It is estimated that a full build out of the site is 370,500 gross square feet.

Municipal Building Site

The block currently occupied by the Municipal Building is roughly 56,400 square feet of land zoned DOC-I. If developed to the full extent allowed by code, some 790,000 square feet of commercial office space could be built. The existing building includes some 222,000 rentable square feet, and is scheduled for demolition in 2002. In addition to the building, there are 410 parking spaces. The site slopes steeply down toward the west, with a drop of roughly 45 feet.

A new City Hall is proposed for the site, to include from 171,000 to 230,000 square feet. The remainder of the block is to be open space, which can be usable for public gathering, public speaking, and informal use. A hillclimb assist is also programmed for the site.

Public Safety Building Site

The Public Safety Building site is 56,400 square feet of land, occupied by a 259,000 square feet building in poor condition. There are 206 parking spaces. Zoning allows 560,000 square feet of residential or commercial office use with parking. There is a 240-foot height limit. The site includes an entry/exit from the Metro transit tunnel on Third Avenue. Historic buildings are on three sides - Dexter Horton, Lyons, St. Charles, Morrison and the King County Courthouse. It is one of the last developable full blocks in the downtown core.

Potential use of the site was studied by The Seneca Real Estate Group in March and May of 1998 (see Appendix). Open space for at least a portion of the site could be an important community asset if designed and maintained well, and the inclusion of a hillclimb assist would not decrease the sites value. Housing would help create the 24-hour activity deemed desirable, but does not create as high a property value as commercial offices. It would likely be moderate income housing given the current neighboring housing. From a zoning standpoint, housing does not count against FAR, so that a full 10:1 FAR could be utilized.

Potential City developments listed in the report were a new City Hall, cultural institution such as a library or museum, downtown park, hillclimb assist, parking garage, hygiene center or use by other City departments.

The City must decide whether it wants or needs to control the site in the long term. Sale of the property will maximize immediate financial benefit but precludes longer term flexibility.

A long term lease arrangement, similar to the Metropolitan Tract, could also be considered.

Alaska Building

The Alaska Building contains approximately 85,000 usable square feet, with the City occupying all but about 8,500 usable square feet. The current assumption is that all City departments will be moved out of the Alaska Building over the next seven to eight years, with total City vacancy expected in 2006.

A study done by The Seneca Real Estate Group in conjunction with GGLO dated June 2, 1998 concluded that residential use of the Alaska Building above the first floor is feasible and relatively efficient for housing. Many of the units would have excellent views, but the lack of on-site parking is problematic. Because housing in the neighborhood is moderate and low income, the housing at this site would likely be similar.

Financially, housing would create a more limited in value compared to its current use as office space, especially since substantial renovation would be required to convert to housing. The feasibility study showed 26 studio units, 78 one bedroom units and 26 two bedroom units, for a total of 130 units.

Dexter Horton Building

The Dexter Horton Biulding contains approximately 250,000 usable square feet of office and retail space. The Citys Master Plan for facilities contemplates a move of all departments out of the Dexter Horton Building over the next 5 to 7 years, so that it will become surplus property.

The City could wait and sell the building when it moves out, which would leave uncertainty about where in the real estate cycle we will be at that time. Or, the City could sell the building now while the market is good, in an arrangement with the buyer specifying lease rates and the timing of relocation of City tenants.

The City would receive a higher sales price by moving out sooner than scheduled so that the buyer can charge market rates for space rather than lower City tenant rents.

If the City mandates that the site be used for housing, sales price is expected to fall on the order of $10 to 15 million. The building is extremely inefficient for housing. Gross residential area would be 240,000 square feet, but usable residential space only amounts to 150,000 square feet (244 units). Code would require the addition of four stairwells due to dead-end configuration of the wings. Many units would have limited views or window space, there is no parking, and housing would almost certainly be low or moderate income. Floors 1 - 4 are not suitable for housing because of the size and configuration of the floor plate, retail orientation and historic design. The project would more likely be mixed use, with concomitant complications and benefits.

Arctic Building

The historic Arctic Building includes 59,500 square feet of usable square footage. Several scenarios for City property recommended retention of the property, and City Council decided to retain the property for City use.

Key Tower

Key Tower was purchased by the City in 1996. The building contains nearly one million square feet of usable office and retail space. Under the master plan, the City will retain ownership of Key Tower to accommodate 750,000 square feet of City administrative offices. The remainder of the building will be available for private leasing and future City expansion, if needed.

Program elements that are symbolic and unique to a Civic Center, such as the Mayor and Council Chambers, should be expressed and emphasized. Consider including additional program elements that are customer related, such as DCLU. One approach to customer service would be to cluster the various services in a public space.

Back To Table of Contents :: On To Section 5: Inventory & Analysis