Midtown: Public Square shaping up with hopes ranging from My Sweet Lil Cakes to Bartell’s

Midtown: Public Square’s design still needs a few more tweaks

With the nonprofit-developed, affordable housing-focused Liberty Bank Building set to open to start 2019, the other major project planned to reshape 23rd and Union with a mix of market-rate and affordable housing from a for-profit developer is hoped to wrap up its public design process for a start of construction next year.

Lake Union Partners, developers for the Midtown: Public Square, met with neighbors last month for two design conversations to discuss “community opportunities” before the planned three-piece, seven-story apartment development with 429 apartment units and underground parking for 258 vehicles returns for what is hoped to be the final review of the project in December.

December’s review will follow July’s unsuccessful bid for design review signoff amid community complaints that design for the Midtown: Public Square project looked too “South Lake Union” and calls for a more Central District-centered process. Despite the concerns, the project is 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.


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At one informal community conversation organized by Lake Union Partners in October, many attendees appeared interested in walls with murals highlighting local artists and adding to the character of the neighborhood. Africatown held a community painting day on part of the Midtown Center property in July to show the African heritage of the neighborhood.

There are three opportunities for public art as a part of the project. On the corner of Union and 23rd, developers want art next to the expected Bartell Drugs location. Those involved have also expressed interest in art on the extensive wall of the Union St. portal and a smaller piece in the 24th Ave portal.

A request for proposals has been issued. These ideas will be reviewed by a panel made up of community members, fellow artists, the architect, developer, and a representative from the James and Janie Washington Foundation.

Feedback from the criticism of the project this summer has been incorporated in the updated proposals. The project’s portals providing access from the street to the large, internal commercial and retail square area of the development have been altered slightly following suggestions from the East Design Review Board. Whereas all three portals planned to include sky bridges connecting the residential areas above, two were removed after the Board said they were too intrusive and wanted more light to get into the public square.

Patrick Foley of Lake Union Partners says that developers are currently working to integrate the Central Area Design Review Board, which was created earlier this year by removing a portion of the Central District from the East region’s purview in an effort to preserve and grow the historically Black culture of the neighborhood.

This has been a long and contentious process that has left developers frustrated at times.

“There isn’t an easy site left to develop,” Todd Bronk, a landscape architect from Berger Partnerships, said.

Midtown: Public Square will include 429 apartment units, approximately 125 of which will be affordable housing earmarked for those that fall into the category of 60% to 85% Area Median Income. The property will include underground parking for 258 vehicles.

There will be seven total retail spaces, one of which is expected to house Bartell Drugs, which has yet to sign a lease, as an anchor tenant in the largest piece of property at the corner of 23rd and Union. My Sweet Lil Cakes, an African-American-owned small business housed in a trailer in Capitol Hill, is in early talks to occupy the 1,480-square-foot space on the corner of 24th and Union, according toFoley of Lake Union Partners. This would be the sweet treat specialist’s first restaurant space after building its business through the food truck circuit.

The legendary Earl’s Cuts, meanwhile, 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

The shape of things to come

The other spaces have yet to be accounted for, but developers want leases signed when construction begins next fall, according to Heather Hargesheimer of architecture firm Weinstein A+U.

Multiple spaces have the opportunity to be subdivided and include multiple retail tenants. For example, a 3,635-square-foot space facing the 12,500 square foot public square could be chopped into as many as seven different businesses. Additionally, on the corner of 23rd and Spring, there is an option to cut the planned 3,269 square foot space into two retail spaces, or it could remain as one.

The “portal” on Union, which allows for public entrance into the square, is expected to include a 3,045-square-foot space intended for restaurant use.

The other retail spaces include 2,811-square-feet that could be subdivided between tenants on the side of the public square and a narrow 1,290-square-foot room alongside the 23rd Ave portal.

Developers says there is strong community interested in ensuring as many businesses housed in the development as possible are owned by local, Black-owned businesses. Suggestions from neighbors during these two recent meetings included a pet store, sports bar, and spaces that are baby-friendly.

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 have separate design review processes with the Africatown project still in the earliy planning phases. This portion will double the amount of affordable housing units on the block to approximately 250. The two projects, which face separate design review processes, will share a private plaza gated from the public.

Developers plan to host one more community design conversation on November 17 before a design review board meeting on December 19.

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10 thoughts on “Midtown: Public Square shaping up with hopes ranging from My Sweet Lil Cakes to Bartell’s

    • Good point. This will bring more traffic. Good reason to not build any new affordable housing on this site. Just let it stay exactly the way it is. Come to think of it, let’s just keep the whole city the way it is now. Wouldn’t want to add any traffic.

      • Not sure who you’re addressing. Perhaps SDOT for their amazing planning around the site in preparation for the hundreds of new people and cars in an already busy intersection and corridor? Bartells for not being an affordable housing company? The city of Seattle for not building enough affordable housing for a growing city and investing enough in public transportation?
        Unclear.

  1. Oh please let this go forward in a timely manner and not get bogged down.

    Pretty please?

    This site has received FAR TOO MUCH resistance for what it is: an ugly, aging block of parking lots and decrepit buildings far past their expiration dates.

    • This is why I wish they’d never split the site.

      Rather than one round of construction, we’re going to have to endure possibly double that depending on when Africatown gets their act together. And you can’t get a demo permit without a building permit, so those run down houses on their end of the block are going to continue to see issues with squatters and drug dealers. It would have been better for everyone (except maybe LUP) if they’d been able to maintain a collaboration.

      If going forward looks anything like what’s come so far, it’s going to be a very long and drawn out process.

      • Yeah, I agree.

        Africatown is a garbage fire, and will likely never get their act together. At least we will have one half of the block complete, however.

        Given the bizarre resistance to doing anything at all with this ugly block–none of which made or makes any sense whatsoever–we should be thankful for small victories.

    • It is not about resistance or a blanket permission for any developers involved to do whatever they want. It is about ensuring that it is a success for the community and that means landing the services, ambiance and design in a way that serves the community here as well as the history of the site. Both extremes being voice here will not serve anyone well.

      • I wasn’t talking blanket permission.

        This block is not nearly as significant as this entire process would seem to indicate. Or, rather, this block is not nearly as significant as everyone involved in this process has pretended it to be.

        That’s not opinion, it’s empirical reality. Just look at the state of the site; there is nothing of worth there.

        It’s a group of decrepit buildings and the only marginal thing of interest is the fountain/sculpture (which I personally think is hideous), a piece of infrastructure that can easily be moved, stored, and reinstalled after construction.

        The resistance to developing this–again: ugly, aging–block has simply never made any sense whatsoever.

  2. Weren’t the sky bridges required egress for code though? Is this change responsible for the reduction in number of units? Who decided uninformed public opinion should carry weight in design reviews? This is a totally unnecessary change, they wouldn’t have blocked much light for most of the day and has likely driven up the cost of the project simply to placate protesters.

    Putting another sweets shop three doors down from Sweet Treats seems like a strange location choice, especially since there’s already a donut shop directly across 23rd from the block, and an ice cream shop just up Union. That’s a lot of competition concentrated in a very small area trying to serve a fairly limited market. I guess the tourists taking selfies in front of Ike’s probably give them a lot of business…

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