Liberty Bank Building: vision of equitable development, great views of the CD

A ceremony to celebrate a financial boost to its vision of inclusive development also provided en opportunity for an early tour of the nearly completed Liberty Bank Building Monday in the Central District.

“I’m a product of the Bronx, New York. Raised in Baltimore. Used to having a lot of diversity in our lives. Coming to the Pacific Northwest, I was stunned and a little lonely for a while,” Regina Glenn said Monday inside the under construction building. “Coming to this project it reminds me of that pulling together that we had.”


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Glenn, president and CEO of Pacific Communications Consultants. a Minority, Women, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise-certified management consulting firm, has been working with nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing, AfricatownThe Black Community Impact Alliance, and Byrd Barr Place to help local businesses be part of creating the new six-story, 115-unit affordable housing development at the corner of 24th and Union.

The award of a two-year, $300,000 grant from KeyBank will help boost the equitable development efforts in the project named for the region’s first Black-owned bank that once stood at the corner.

Liberty Bank operated at 24th and Union until 1988 when KeyBank took over. CHH agreed to acquire the property from KeyBank in 2013 “at a rate well below its assessed market value,” the nonprofit developer said at the time.

Monday’s Central District homecoming for KeyBank included a major financial boost that the organizations say will help “further the creation of affordable housing targeted at members of the community having a hard time keeping up with escalating rents, thus stabilizing families and mitigating further displacement” and “build capacity in the community to support legacy small businesses when they experience economic hardship and risk displacement.”

Glenn said the construction of the building has also been a boost for minority contractors with more than 32% of the work — nearly $5 million worth —  going to MWDBE providers on the project including artists hired to work on the building. 17.9% are African American contractors providing $2.8 million to Black-owned businesses.

Walsh Construction is the general contractor for the project and sought Black subcontractors for everything from putting up drywall to installing carpet, except for plumbing work — a Black-owned company had already been hired for that.

When the Liberty Bank Building opens in 2019, it will also feature local, Black-owned businesses.

The legendary Earl’s Cuts is set to move across E Union to make way for redevelopment of the Midtown block. 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 part of the plans — as was a new project from the sister duo behind Capitol Hill’s dearly departed Kingfish Cafe.

The building is planned to have 100 studio and one-bedroom apartments, plus 15 two bedroom units above the four commercial spaces. Apartments will be available at 30 to 60% of the area median income, ranging in price from $434 to $1,154 $526 to $1,353 per month.

The color scheme of the building is intended to represent African American culture. Al Doggett Studios is curating art for the building that will honor the Liberty Bank and reflect African American cultural heritage. Eight artists were selected to 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 uses brick veneer and incorporate some salvaged bricks from Liberty Bank. Inside the main lobby, the door from the old Liberty Bank vault waits under plastic for its unveiling as an architectural centerpiece greeting entrants inside the building’s eastern entrance.

Residents at the building will also have access to a rooftop terrace with incredible views, workroom, and lounge.

Financing for the project is illustrative of the diverse ingredients required for a successful nonprofit, affordable housing development. Of the $34 million budget, 36% comes from a $12.2 million City of Seattle Office of Housing loan, $10 million from tax credit equity through Heritage Bank, $8.1 million from a Bellwether Enterprise- First Mortgage permanent loan, $1 million from a state Housing Trust Fund loan, $1 million from Capitol Hill Housing equity, and a final $1.7 million raised by the Rise Together capital campaign, an effort to raise money for affordable housing across the Central District, Capitol Hill, and White Center.

Construction has been speedier than many other contemporary projects. The Liberty Bank Building is being built with only 18 residential parking spaces and without a massive underground parking garage that would have required even more months of digging.

In 2016, Africatown joined The Black Community Impact Alliance, and Byrd Barr Place — formerly Centerstone — in a memorandum of understanding with nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing. The Liberty partnership has been held up as a template for inclusive development in Seattle with a respect for history and the empowerment of the African American community. The group worked to incorporate the site’s historical significance and create housing that is home to Black residents and commercial space with Black businesses.

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.

But another template exists — across the street. There, the Midtown Center is about to begin a massive redevelopment across 80% of the block. Developer Lake Union Partners is creating a three-piece, seven-story apartment building with 429 apartment units and underground parking for 258 vehicles. Joining the new, market-rate and affordable housing, pharmacy chain Bartell Drugs is planning 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. On the southern 20% of the block, Capitol Hill Housing and Africatown are trying a different approach. There, the nonprofit developer and the Africatown Community Land Trust will own the property and development together and are still in planning stages for the affordable housing-focused project.

Ownership is also part of the vision at 24th and Union. The Liberty Bank Building agreement includes a path to Black ownership of the development but that will be an effort a decade or two off. In the meantime, Capitol Hill Housing’s Jill Fleming said the commercial units in the building will be commercial condos owned by her nonprofit for the time being. The longer term plan is for a nonprofit to form to take ownership of the commercial aspects of the building — and, possibly, for the businesses themselves to own their spaces. That type of ownership could be an important early step to the eventual community ownership of the development.

“The Liberty Bank Building is a collaboration in equitable development in a time of rapid change and gentrification in the Central District,” Fleming said.

KeyBank’s Seattle market president Carol K. Nelson said Monday the grant was about addressing that gentrification.

“If you take a look at the gentrification that is occurring and our need to make sure that we always are true to our roots,” Nelson said, “it’s important that we invest in opportunities like this.”

The building is slated to open in early 2019 and the tenant application process is already underway. You can learn more at libertybankbuilding.org.

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