After mainlining a trough-sized amount of coffee (it was Seattle, after all), my first stop was Argosy Cruises’ Seattle Waterfront Harbor Sightseeing Tour Cruise. It was almost painfully touristy, but the views were amazing, and groups can privately charter vessels for dining and sightseeing cruises.
I spent much of my free time exploring Seattle’s neighborhoods, which, much like the city’s population, are diverse and quirky. My favorite was Capitol Hill. Broad in size and appeal, the neighborhood is plump with coffee shops, vintage boutiques, eateries of every persuasion, and, of course, dive-bar nightlife. David Blandford, vice president of communications and public relations for Visit Seattle — my hosts for Tableau — treated me to local Syrah and mussels at the unpretentiously hip Terra Plata, which has edged its rooftop terrace with an edible garden. It’s just a few blocks from here that the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) will build its largest expansion to date.
“The destination is very easy to sell,” Jeff Blosser, the WSCC’s president and CEO, said later during my trip. “It’s a cool city, the food scene is awesome, and the wine scene is starting to pick up now. We’ve got to make sure we supply the right infrastructure for groups to pick us.”
The WSCC currently offers 414,722 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, and has plans for another building across the street with 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, a ballroom with at least 50,000 square feet, and 100,000-plus square feet of breakout space. Such an expansion, Blosser said, will help draw larger meetings as well as let the WSCC accommodate two groups simultaneously. If everything goes according to plan, the WSCC will break ground on the project in 2017 — complementing the 3,000 new hotel rooms slated to open in Seattle within the next three years.
After two nights in a roomy, 45th-floor suite at The Westin Seattle — an 891-room property six blocks from the WSCC — I switched to the elegantly rustic and rambling Beecher’s Loft, a space the Inn at the Market, located in the famous Pike Place Market, often uses for small gatherings. I could see the market’s iconic red sign from my bed, and past it, Puget Sound. Like the WSCC, the waterfront in and around the market is due for a revamp, and in conjunction with a major infrastructure overhaul, city leaders plan to redevelop 26 blocks of not-so-walkable waterfront into a pedestrian-friendly promenade over the next several years.
“[The waterfront] is beautiful, but we’ve got some roadways that are blocking … experiencing it properly,” said Kelly Saling, Visit Seattle’s national account director for convention sales, over a local brew on my last evening. “This infrastructure will [let us] connect to it better.”
Tom Norwalk, Visit Seattle’s president and CEO, added that with the WSCC expansion, waterfront redevelopment, and new hotel inventory, Seattle will have that final missing piece to its convention puzzle. “We turn away as much business as we book because we don’t have the space,” he said. “It’s going to be big, it’s going to be great, and we’re just starting to get a sense of how cool it’s going to be.”