Black ownership, Black identity, Black residents — there is a lot hinging on the design plans for the six-story, mixed use Liberty Bank Building. The project, part of a wave of new development around 23rd and Union, takes what could be its final step in the design review process this week.
Last week, community members heard about the proposed design and progress on the project to fill the lot that used to be home to the Liberty Bank, the West Coast’s first black-owned bank.
Nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing is hoping the community support that has helped shaped the project thus far will be on display at Wednesday night’s design review session.
“We would be very grateful for that because your voice matters,” CHH’s Walter Zisette told community members last week before the Thanksgiving holiday.
The building is designed to have 115 studio, one-bedroom and two bedroom apartments and four commercial spaces. Apartments will be available at 30 to 60% of the area median income, ranging in price from $434 to $1,154.
The project to create the Liberty Bank Building is hoped to become a template for inclusive development in Seattle with a respect for history and the empowerment of the African American community. Project partners Africatown, Black Community Impact Alliance, Centerstone, and CHH are working to incorporate the site’s historical significance and make sure the intentions manifest themselves in something real and tangible in the project.
Walsh Construction is the general contractor for the project and is seeking black subcontractors for everything from putting up drywall to installing carpet, except for plumbing work — a black-owned company has already been hired for that. “One of the biggest things that I’ve been pushing for, that we’re all pushing for, is to make sure when there’re people on the job site, they look like our community, they look like us,” said Jaebadiah Gardner, Capitol Hill Housing’s assistant project manager for the Liberty Bank Building, at an Africatown community meeting in October.
Walsh, meanwhile, recently held an early meeting for potential subcontractors. Zisette said about several black subcontractors attended. “We’re very excited about that because 30 is more than we anticipated,” he said.
For the four commercial spaces, the partners are working to secure primarily black tenants. Zisette said the partners have been talking to Earl’s Cuts and Styles about moving into one of the spaces from its current location at the nearby Midtown Center.
Africatown has taken the lead on securing commercial tenants by working with CHH to create a questionnaire for potential businesses about their finances and business plan.
“We want people who have good business plans and who have a good track record and who will fit well into the intent of the building,” Zisette said.
Al Doggett Studios has also been hired to curate art for the building that will honor the Liberty Bank and reflect African American cultural heritage. Nine artists will create 11 works for the development.
The overall design of the building also plays off African-American inspired art with an overall asymmetrical design that uses varying colors and textures of fiber cement panels and siding, the project architects at Mithun say. The street level will use brick veneer and incorporate some salvaged bricks from Liberty Bank.
Residents at the building will also have access to a rooftop terrace, workroom and lounge. The plans call for 18 residential parking spaces.
Doug Leigh with Mithun architects said the project will require three departures from the standard zoning in the area. The first is for a courtyard in front of the residential entrance; the code standard calls for facades to be within 10 feet of the street. The second is to use the courtyard entry as the residential entry; the code says at least one street level facades should have a prominent entry. The third concerns the garage driveway. According to the plan, the code isn’t clear about the line of sight. If a departure is required, the plan would include scoring in the sidewalk to alert pedestrians to the driveway.
As a rezoning of most of the city — and Capitol Hill, of course — is worked out under the Housing Affordability and Livability committee and the area around 23rd and Union is lined up for big boosts in allowable heights, the Liberty Bank Project will require a surgical “contract rezone” approved by the city council to be able to move forward:
This project requires a contract rezone from Neighborhood Commercial 2 with a 40′ height limit and pedestrian overlay (NC2P-40) and a Neighborhood Commercial 2 with a 40′ height limit – no pedestrian overlay (NC2-40) to a Neighborhood Commercial 2 with 65′ height limit and pedestrian overlay (NC2P-65).
During this spring’s early design review for the project, influential community group the Central Area Land Use Review Committee weighed in positively on the project and said it was fully supportive of the rezone.
If this week’s design review plays out as the developers hope, construction will begin in May 2017 and last about a year.