Change set to split the community around 23rd and Union among those who consider it a central part of the neighborhood’s social fabric and those who will be happy to see it go is finally coming. Preliminary paperwork has been filed for the demolition of Midtown Center.
The six demolition permit applications filed October 4th aren’t anywhere near approval from the City of Seattle but the paperwork is yet another reminder that the corner is set for its latest and biggest transformation yet.
The permits cover the existing and still operating commercial buildings in the center as well as the empty residential structures on the block and the small cafe in the middle of the parking lot. “Commercial bldg. (The small café). I don’t know the address, perhaps 2301 23rd Ave,” the application for that demolition reads.
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The redevelopment of the block has been a flashpoint for community anxiety regarding gentrification in the Central District and the Midtown Center has been called home by a number of minority owned businesses. The first Midtown property parcels were purchased by the Bangasser family 75 years ago and the family had been managing it for decades before its $23.25 million sale to Lake Union Partners. Paul Bangasser was active in the neighborhood’s fight for racial equality and fair housing, according to his 1992 obituary.
Once considered the core of the area’s “open air drug market,” crime around Midtown Center has been part of the corner’s reputation even as incidents have steadily decreased. But as a wave of gun violence ending the summer around the Central District including a shooting at Midtown Center in July has mostly subsided, new neighbors and longtime residents still experience more than their fair share of gunshots. In response to the shootings, The East Precinct boosted patrols with SWAT and K9 units on the neighborhood’s streets. The mayor responded to neighborhood concerns — and criticism of the heavy handed response — with a plan to spend $7 million on youth violence programs.
It’s not clear what the timeline for approval and then execution of the Midtown demolition permits will be. Businesses including the liquor store and longtimer Earl’s Cuts are still active in the center. And an art project from Africatown with funding to continue the work into the next year from the city’s Neighborhood Matching Fund has added new color and activation to the center. UPDATE: A representative for Lake Union Partners tells CHS that it is currently planning demolition for early winter 2019.
The legendary Earl’s is set to move across E Union into the under construction affordable housing and retail project the Liberty Bank Building from Capitol Hill Housing when it opens in mid-2019. That Brown Girl Cooks! is also slated to join Earl’s in the Liberty Bank Building and, hopefully, the two businesses along with some yet to be announced will create a successful retail mix. In the past, a credit union was in the mix — as was a new project from the legendary sister duo behind Capitol Hill’s dearly departed Kingfish Cafe but we haven’t heard any new updates on the projects.
As for what comes next at Midtown Center, a second attempt to get the project through design review is slated for December. Despite complaints that design for the three-piece, seven-story apartment building with 429 apartment units and underground parking for 258 vehicles looked too “South Lake Union” and calls for a more Central District-centered process, the project is currently planned to remain under the purview of the East Design Review Board that covers neighborhoods including Capitol Hill, the Central Area, and Madison Park. It’s not clear what role if any will be played by members of the Central Area Design Review Board created earlier this year by splitting off the Central District neighborhoods from the East region in an effort to preserve and grow the historically Black culture of the Central District.
In addition to more than 400 units of new, market-rate and affordable housing, developer Lake Union Partners has been in talks with pharmacy chain Bartell Drugs to occupy a large retail space on the corner of 23rd and Union. A plaza on the corner of 24th and Union, meanwhile, will feature the James Washington Fountain, which the sculptor saw as a symbol of the struggle of African Americans.
The development has been planned to include around 125 affordable housing units allocated for households earning between $40,000 and $65,000 per year or 60% to 85% of area-median income (AMI) built as part of both the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program and the Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program (MFTE). City records indicate the project has yet to designate whether it will build the affordable units as planned or pay into the city’s MHA program in lieu of the affordable units.
The Lake Union Partners project will take place on 80% of the Midtown block, while the other 20% of the property was sold by Lake Union Partners to Africatown Community Land Trust and Capitol Hill Housing. The two projects, which have separate design review processes, will share a familial plaza that will be gated from the public.
Once complete, the developments will create about 250 affordable housing apartments and 280 market rate units. The Midtown Center project will also include 25,000 square feet of retail, “10,000 of which is planned for small scale, locally owned businesses,” the developers say.