Lost in progress at Midtown Center: a 23rd and Union small business and a Central District post office

(Image: CHS)

As much as some neighbors may be looking forward to the demolition of the old Midtown Center shopping strip at 23rd and Union, the end isn’t much to celebrate. You can feel the missing systematic safety net for Seattle’s small businesses as one small shop owner struggles to sort out what comes next. Other changes will be inconvenient and, for some, further evidence that Seattle — and the Central District — is tossing aside community elements as it reaches for continued growth and development.

“Please help me. Please don’t forget about me,” Saad Ali pleads. The owner of the 99 Cents Plus store in the now mostly vacant shopping center is happy to finally hear from a journalist. Attention from Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant has helped, he says, but it hasn’t helped him find a new place to move his store or any opportunities for grants or financial assistance to weather the change. More useful, he says, has been recent conversations with a few officials from City Hall who are looking into ways to help Ali move.

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Police search for suspects after 21st and Union shootout, E Cherry carjacking — UPDATE

Photo of the crash scene from a neighbor

Seattle Police and the King County Sheriff’s Guardian One helicopter searched for suspects after a round of gunfire and car crash near 21st and Union Friday night.

Multiple 911 callers reported more than a dozen shots fired in the street along 21st Ave just after 9 PM. Arriving police found multiple damaged vehicles and a red Camaro crashed nearby, according to East Precinct radio reports.

As the helicopter searched the area from above, an SPD K9 unit took to the ground to try to track the vehicle’s driver who reportedly left a phone behind in the crashed car at the scene.

There were no reported injuries and no arrests. Continue reading

That Brown Girl Cooks chef has ‘Seattle Soul’ plans for new Central District restaurant

Kristi Brown and her son Damon Bomar live and work at their home on Beacon Hill. A few miles away in the Central District, their restaurant planned to open in the summer of 2019 is under construction as part of the new Liberty Bank Building at 24th and Union.

With success building a catering business with That Brown Girl Cooks, Brown’s 30 years of cooking experience will finally find a permanent spot in a neighborhood she considers part of her home turf.

Brown calls her cooking style Seattle Soul.

“I’d say that Seattle Soul is rooted in soul food, innovated upon by the influences here in Seattle,” Bomar said. “We don’t like to call it fusion, because we’re not necessarily melding actual recipes, but it’s more about taking different ingredients and utilizing them in the recipes we have.”

The new restaurant will be on the ground floor of the Liberty Bank Building and while it looks like two separate restaurants are being built, Brown says that the space on the left will be a robust commercial kitchen while the space to the right will seat up to 64 including the bar and chef’s table. Continue reading

Shop Africatown at Saturday’s Soul Holiday Market

Goods from Shades of Color will be part of the offerings Saturday at the Soul Holiday Market

With demolition and redevelopment looming, Midtown Center still stands at 23rd and Union. The shopping center is still in the game. Saturday, it will host a celebration and last minute holiday shopping event — the Soul Holiday Market is Saturday 1 to 8 PM:

Soul Holiday Market

The Africatown-sponsored event will feature games, music and food trucks.

Midtown Center, meanwhile, might hang around a little longer. Wednesday night, a combined East and Central Area review board voted to send the latest design proposal for the seven-story mixed-use project planned to rise on the block back to the drawing board for further refinement of its community art plans.

As for holiday shopping, expect a busy weekend around the Hill and the CD. For more fun things to get out and do, check out this week’s On the List. You can also find more local shopping and gift ideas on the CHS Shop the Hill page.

Midtown: Public Square kicked back in review process as board says plan for community art not enough

A plan for adding massive installations of art panels to help the project better reflect the culture and the history of the Central District wasn’t enough to convince area design officials Wednesday night as the Midtown: Public Square mixed-use project was kicked back for yet another round of review.

After a four-hour design review meeting, a blended group of the newly created Central Area Design Review Board and the East Review Board decided to ask the developer and its architects at Weinstein A+U to return with plans for art on the building that is more fully fleshed out.

“What we’re going to want to know is where the art is going to be located, and why it is reinforcing the larger design concepts of the building,” East Review Board chair Melissa Alexander said. “Is it art that is speaking to the larger community? Is it drawing people in? How is that art drawing people into the space?” Continue reading

After closure to start year, Central District swimmers will enjoy Medgar Evers pool overhaul in 2019

(Image: City of Seattle)

Central Seattle swimmers will have to start 2019 without the public pool closest to Capitol Hill.

The Central District’s public Medgar Evers Pool on the community center campus next to 23rd Ave’s Garfield High School will be closed starting January 1st for an 18-week overhaul: Continue reading

‘Community interest’ — Newly formed Central Area Board will have say on Midtown: Public Square

A key Central District project to create a set of seven-story mixed buildings at 23rd and Union is ready to finish off 2018 Wednesday night with what many hope is the final step in a multi-year design review process spanning two different developers.

An important group will be on hand to see the process through.

The City of Seattle’s Department of Construction & Inspections tells CHS that the members of the newly created Central Area Design Review Board will be part of the December 19th review joining the East Review Board that has been overseeing the process since the first look at a project from a previous developer in early 2017.

Design Review: 2301 E Union

“Based on community interest, the East Board has agreed to incorporate members of the newly created Central Area Board into the recommendation process for this proposal,” a city rep tells CHS. “While the permit application was vested to the previous design review board district boundaries, the property owner has voluntarily agreed to incorporate members of the Central Area Board into the discussion and recommendation process.” Continue reading

Development follows Twilight Exit to the Central District (but this time the dive bar has years to prepare for it)

The Twilight Exit’s alley mural (Image: CHS)

Development, once again, is following the Twilight Exit. Fortunately for the E Madison ex-pat dive bar and its E Cherry neighbor the Tana Market, this round of change still has years to play out.

Development “is always in the back of your mind,” Stephan Mollmann tells CHS about the business of building bars outside the Pike/Pine and Broadway core of Central Seattle.

As the Twilight prepares for its 20th birthday next spring and a decade after its move from E Madison to make way for development there, Mollman’s bar is again being prepared for a changing neighborhood. Continue reading

After ‘positive’ talks, New Seasons and community groups opposing new store set for Central District agreement — UPDATE: ‘Disappointed’

UPDATE 11/19/18 12:30 PM: Despite hopes of an agreement from representatives on both sides Friday, Monday, activists and community groups who have been engaged with New Seasons said they are “disappointed” that officials “gave no indication the company is committed to change.”

“We can’t wait around while New Seasons’ corporate leadership thinks a little more about respecting our community’s values, and we’re not going to stop calling on them to respect workers’ rights,” the group writes in a statement sent by the Good Jobs Coalition.

“We’re not going away,” the group writes, “and we call on other community members to join us…”

The full statement has been added at the end of this post.

The grand opening of New Seasons in Ballard included this group of protesters

Original report: Unlike what happened at its May opening in Ballard, you probably won’t see protesters greet New Seasons when it opens at 23rd and Union in 2019.

A company spokesperson said it plans to meet Friday’s deadline for a response after positive talks with community groups aligned to push back on the Portland-based grocery chain’s labor practices and its ownership’s anti-LGBTQ politics as it readies to open in the Central District.

Friday’s deadline is part of a community coalition’s demands for the chain:

During their meeting, organizers gave New Seasons co-president Kristi McFarland and other local reps a list of demands. If the demands are met, they said, their campaign against the company would stop. Among other things, they asked New Seasons to sign a neutrality agreement to let interested workers unionize, disclose workforce demographics, let low-income customers use Fresh Bucks to buy produce, stock affordable staple foods, and donate some of their local profits to affordable housing projects and community land trusts.

Nicole Keenan, executive director of Puget Sound Sage, an advocacy group dedicated to low-income people, communities of color, immigrants and refugees, has been part of talks with New Seasons and also categorized the negotiations as positive in a conversation with CHS Friday afternoon. Keenan joined reps from groups like the Squire Park Community Council in the discussions with New Seasons.

While we don’t yet know the specifics of the New Seasons response, the community campaign against the store which has included a “newseasonstories.com” website and neighborhood yard signs, appears to be approaching a fruitful conclusion.

UPDATE 3:40 PM: A New Seasons representative sent over the company’s response to the community groups. We’ve added the full letter at the end of this post. A company representative also provided the following statement:

At New Seasons, we are proud of our established track record as an active civic partner that is committed to directly engaging in building community in a way that reflects our shared progressive values. We’ve been working with a Central District Advisory Council made up of business leaders, local nonprofit representatives and neighborhood council members to understand the needs of the neighborhood, but when we were contacted by this group we wanted to hear their perspective as well. At the meeting, we shared our commitment to championing higher wages, comprehensive benefits for all kinds of families, an inclusive culture, as well as using our voice to stand up for affordable housing, hunger relief and other important social justice and workplace issues that affect everyone. We also took away some valuable ideas from our conversation that we will be exploring further.

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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. Continue reading