‘A sense of home’ on Capitol Hill: a look inside the new Consulate of Mexico in Seattle

Two times a week, its legal protection team visits many of the some 200 immigrant women — most mothers separated from their children —  currently held in the SeaTac Federal Detention Center.

“This is something we work on every single day,” Roberto Dondisch, general consul at the Consulate of Mexico in Seattle, tells CHS.

But like many efforts at the consulate, the team’s work is not about politics or trying to change Trump administration policies. Instead the team checks in on the women’s well-being, helps connect them to lawyers and organizations that can help, and is there to make sure its citizens retain their human rights.

“We are very active,” Dondisch said. “Everybody has the right to ask for protection.”

The legal protection team and the rest of the diplomatic apparatus of the consulate dedicated to strengthening Mexican communities and promoting the nation’s economic interests in the Pacific Northwest will be in action starting in July from its new home on Capitol Hill.

Soon, Dondisch says, the official seals will go up on the bricks and the Mexican flag will rise above the western wall of the old Harvard Exit Theater. The State Department has already approved the property’s diplomatic status. Ceremonies will follow in the coming months but the consulate’s work begins at the corner of Harvard and Roy just off Broadway on July 9th.

CHS toured the new facility this week and saw the spaces transformed from the 93-year-old movie theater into a new diplomatic processing center and offices. With new seismic bracing, tastefully culturally relevant carpeting, and a sleek visa, consular ID, passport, and birth certificate processing area, most of the ghosts of the Harvard Exit have been pushed out by the layers of bullet-proof glass that partition the about to reopen building.

The bulk of work at the consulate is, indeed, paperwork with up to 200 people a day working with the consulate to secure their papers. Many are Mexican citizens — Dondisch says there are more than 800,000 people of Mexican heritage in the state. More and more are U.S. citizens seeking visas for extended stays in Mexico — and many of those are work visas, according to the general consul.

The historic theater building was being prepared as office and restaurant space by developer Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures. The plan had been for a restaurant to take over the building’s 1,500-square-foot lobby, while Shapiro envisioned a bar moving into the 2,200 square-foot basement. The rest of the building was set to become “creative offices,” including the two 5,000 square-foot theater spaces and two upper floors of existing offices. Shapiro acquired the property in 2014 for $2.35 million and closed the theater in 2015, eventually bringing an end to its 46-year run.

Moving on from its cramped and aged Belltown offices, Mexico’s new diplomatic facility will take up two stories plus the theater’s mezzanine and basement, includes “open work spaces,” a “lounge area” reconfigured as a “work area,” areas with “glass partitions,” and a dramatic conference room that showcases the building’s well-worn brick. The construction has created a new main entryway off Harvard and a new internal stairway for the structure. The project also includes a new flag pole on Harvard and the diplomatic seals — elements that needed special approval in the neighborhood’s Harvard-Belmont Historic District which also requires that the 1925-built masonry exterior remains intact. The architect on the project was Capitol Hill-based S+H Works.

The upper offices of the new project are still available for a new tenant to neighbor the consulate. A handful of civic organizations are reportedly interested in the third floor.

For Dondisch who has served as the general consul for two years, the move means an easier visit people seeking the consulate’s services and better access to transit. But it also is important, he says, that the consulate is something the state’s Mexican communities can be proud of. “This really gives our community a sense of home,” he said.

The Consulate of Mexico in Seattle will close its Belltown offices June 22nd and reopen after the move to Capitol Hill at Harvard and Roy on July 9th. You can learn more at consulmex.sre.gob.mx/seattle.


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