“I started drinking with Deano in about 2005,” says Jim Mueller, referring to the eponymous owner of a bar that long made E Madison west of 22nd Ave its home. Mueller, a local, says that after leaving development giant Vulcan, he wanted to work on his own neighborhood. “It has long been obvious to me that some investment was needed,” he says. So he began working on plans for a mixed retail and apartment building on the site.
“This is a key neighborhood block and one of the last yet to be redeveloped on that stretch of Madison — Seattle’s only Sound-to-lake corridor,” The Seattle Times reported in 2008. “Its renewal would finally bring to this locale the kind of gentrification that has been taking place east and west of it and throughout much of the Central Area.”
“And then we had a recession,” Mueller says. “It was a project interrupted.”
Mueller never got to build on the Deano’s site, which is now being developed by Lennar Multifamily Communities, according to property records. But he has started work across the street, on the southern corner of the 22nd/Madison intersection where the Twilight Exit once stood. That building came down so recently that Google Earth thinks it still stands, but if you visit the lot in meat-space, the place is barren: two hulking, yellow caterpillar scoops sit on loose, brown soil inside a perimeter of chain-link fence.
In about two years, though, Mueller hopes to build 95 units in a mixed-use project — shopping on the ground and mid-range apartments in the sky. “They’ll be tasteful, but shooting for the mid-market,” Mueller says, declining to name a dollar figure for rents. “The mid-market these days is pricier than you’d like, because construction prices have gone up so much.”
Mueller’s project will also widen sidewalks, plant photosynthetic eye-candy, and defer to the planned pedestrian and bicycle friendly greenway on 22nd Ave, Mueller says, in an attempt to “bring some pedestrian shopping to the neighborhood.”
His vision will need to be carried to fruition by a giant, Florida-based developer on the old Deano’s side of the block. Empty for years since the demolition of Chocolate City, plans for the parcel on the northside of E Madison have also sprung back to life. Filings for the project indicate Lennar has an option to buy the property and is thawing 2009-era designs for a 200+ unit project with nearly 10,000 square feet of commercial space and a large underground parking complex below.
Meanwhile, another real estate titan has set off community ripples about the future of Safeway and the The Summit at Madison Park development on the southeast corner of 22nd and Madison. According to county records, the commercial property’s owner has assigned rents from the grocery market to a lender in a $16 million+ financing deal on the property. A spokesperson for Vancouver BC-based Cressey Development Group says no changes are planned and that the new deal was part of a standard refinancing after a previous mortgage came to an end.
Working among these property giants is Mueller. Longtime resident Andrew Taylor lauds Mueller’s approach to the area. “If you as a neighborhood wanted to design a developer to develop your neighborhood,” he says, “I think you would come up with Jim Mueller.”
Taylor says he and some other neighbors started pushing for development in the late ‘90s. They eventually found common cause with Mueller, who held informal meetings at Central Cinema and Miller Community Center to explain his plans and take feedback — which usually involved small tweaks to landscaping or sun-alignment, Mueller says. “We live in the neighborhood, so we’re not usually surprised by what people say.”
In addition to developing the old Twilight Exit property, Mueller tells CHS he has acquired a second site on the northeast corner of the 22nd/Madison intersection, where the tire shop stands. Courtesy Tire cleared out of the shop over the weekend and thanked its customers after 46 years at the location.
When he’s got a mature development concept for the property, Mueller says he’ll return to the community for feedback.