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There’s a better use for this: The marquee lights up at 12th Ave Arts

(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

IMG_0916UPDATE: With speeches from a stage full of the movers and shakers who made the project happen, artists, and city and state officials, 12th Ave Arts opened its doors Thursday night.

Calling the project a new “center of community life” for Capitol Hill, Capitol Hill Housing CEO Chris Persons thanked the more than 200 capital donors who made the project possible and made way for a long roster of speakers there to introduce the project to the neighborhood. Rep. Frank Chopp got the audience on its feet to applaud “the Seattle spirit” and christened the largest of the two theater spaces in the facility with its first performance — his reading of the James Oppenheim poem Bread and Roses. The dignitaries even threw a few lines to the theater folk. Strawberry Workshop’s Greg Carter said he was ready to get to work in a building emblematic of Capitol Hill — a neighborhood with an environment open to creating “things that don’t make sense.”

Though Mayor Ed Murray was not able to attend, his husband Michael Shiosaki took the podium to represent the City of Seattle. “12th Ave Arts is the center of the new Capitol Hill Arts District that the mayor just announced last week,” Shiosaki said. The city’s first district will promote existing arts venues in the neighborhood and, eventually, could grow to include incentives to create new ones. While far from controversial, the statement clarifies some earlier messages from City Hall about a focus on Cal Anderson as the hub of the district. With its expensive and state of the art performance facilities, we don’t think many will quibble with Shiosaki’s announcement.

SPD also found itself in a momentary awkward spot during the opening ceremonies as CEO Persons introduced Deputy Chief Carmen Best and referred to 12th Ave Arts as “not a project of the department’s choosing,” a reference to the pushback from SPD that helped to stall the initiative for more than a decade.

With that, it was time to officially open the building. No ribbons here. Instead, dozens of bright bulbs burst on in the building’s foyer. A trio of dancers took their places. And the performances began.

Rep. Chopp

“To ensure that the housing is actually owned by us, the community. Why housing? Because it’s a basic necessity of life. Why the arts? Because it inspires us to live.” — Rep. Chopp


Original post: A project more than a decade in the pushing will officially open Thursday night with a ceremony to light the marquee out front of 12th Ave Arts. We’ve included details on the ceremony and a history of the Capitol Hill Housing project through the prism of CHS news coverage, below. Stuck in the mire between community groups who wanted to get something done and reluctance in some key corners of City Hall and at East Precinct, the debut of 12th Ave Arts is a reminder that pushes from groups like the Capitol Hill Community Council and neighborhood business and organizations can still get something done. “These citizen volunteers went down there and said there’s a better use for this,” Capitol Hill Housing’s Michael Seiwerath told CHS earlier this year. Today, the old, barbed wire-ringed police parking lot is gone and the marquee lights are ready to go on.

12th Avenue Arts Grand Opening

WHAT:                 Capitol Hill Housing celebrates the grand opening of 12th Avenue Arts, with remarks by community leaders, performances by local artists, and food from neighborhood restaurants

WHEN:                 Thursday, November 20, 4:00 – 8:00pm
Remarks:  4:00pm
Marquee lighting:  5:00pm

WHERE:               12th Avenue Arts:  1620 12th Ave, Seattle, WA  98122

WHO:                   Christopher Persons – Capitol Hill Housing

Michael Shiosaki – City of Seattle, Rep. Frank Chopp – Speaker of the House, Brian Bonlender – Washington State Department of Commerce, Carmen Best – Seattle Deputy Chief of Police, Steve Walker – Seattle Office of Housing, Kevin Nowak – KeyBank, Michelle Morlan – National Development Council, Greg Carter, Darragh Kennan, Ali el-Gasseir – BlackBox Artistic Directors, Leah Pfenning – 12th Avenue Arts Resident, Michael Malone – Capital Campaign Co-Chair

HOW:                   Open to the public; members of the press invited to attend

NOTE: More than 400 RSVPs have been received, which is very close to the building’s capacity! 

If you can’t make it Thursday night, stay tuned: Organizers say they’re planning another open house in December.

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)


Building: 29,000 square feet, six stories, designed by SMR Architects

Cost: $47 million including a mix of tax credits, levy dollars, state programs and commercial bank loans to complete the $38 million project and a $7.7 million loan from the city. City Hall also transferred the property to the nonprofit developer in an agreement pounded out in 2012.

Affordable housing: 88 units reserved for those with household earnings no greater than 60% of the area median income, putting max income eligibility around $37,000 for a single person and and $53,000 for a four person household.

IMG_8678Performance spaces: Two totaling nearly 6,000 square feet: one with room for 149 seats, the other Studio Stage with an 80-person audience capacity. Strawberry Theatre Workshop, Washington Ensemble Theatre and New Century Theater Company have teamed up to be part of Black Box Productions, a company formed to manage 12th Ave Arts facilities.

Food and drink: Rachel’s Ginger Beer Capitol Hill, U:Don Noodle Station and Pelmeni Dumpling Tzar will be open by spring 2015.

Office space: Capitol Hill Housing, Three Dollar Bill Cinema, Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences class and rehearsal space, and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce will keep the lower floors of the building bustling by day.

SPD parking: East Precinct personnel’s vehicles will call the super-reinforced parking structure below the building home.


12th Ave Arts CHS Coverage Timeline

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14 thoughts on “There’s a better use for this: The marquee lights up at 12th Ave Arts

  1. I *LOVE* the orange letters on the front of the building. It really draws attention to the building. What I really wish they would do is light the 12 AVE part so it looks even better.

    I can’t wait to go see a performance there.

    • Right? What’s the deal with the marquee signage? And, why no explanation. Only 1/3 lit looks kind of stupid.

      Also, it’s kind of lame that none of those 88 housing units on top were reserved for actual artists/musicians. Sigh. Grrrr.

      • Ummm, Calhoun, it’s a long odds game when there are only 88 apartments available and thousands who need/want in. Also, people are living their lives, which doesn’t always include following the sweepstakes rules /bouncing ball of each of the very rare openings for suitable affordable housing on The Hill. People are working, making art and trying to stop the onslaught that threatens ever day folks (an onslaught that occurs merely so the wealthy can profit evermore). Oh, and, again, artists are struggling to MAKE ART. Imagine!

        Calhoun, if you crawled out from under that rock or pulled that smarty head of yours out from your favorite sand pile, you’d realize what everyone with a clue knows: artists come in to an area and vitalize it, make it cool and interesting in the minds of outsiders. Then, those outsiders come to stay, wanting to live in these same -now vibrant- places; ‘gentrification’ (not necessarily beautification), speculation and investment-driven development (that force the artists out) all ensue. It happens over and over again.

        Artists (musicians, dancers, actors, painters, comedians, etc.) entertain and draw diners and shoppers; especially when they/we become successes, they/we draw tourists and create exponential economic impact, and they/we contribute hugely to the soul of a place.

        What appreciation do we get? We’re exploited (the more financially vulnerable, the better to exploit!), underpaid -if/when we’re paid at all- and subjected to ignorant, unappreciative commentators such as yourself.

        Calhoun, you have a loud voice on this here useful site and you use it often. I could be wrong but, I’d bet you already “got yours”. Many of us did not/have not.

        Anytime you’d like to actually chat in a constructive manner, in-person, I’d be thrilled to illuminate for you why you should educate yourself better about the basic failings of United Statesian policies and misinformed attitudes around the arts and artists, so maybe you won’t feel so inclined to utter such flippant, ridiculous suggestions as you too often do. Just let me know when and where and we can meet for coffee :-)

      • No thanks. Your hostile response to my benign comment, and your personal insults and name-calling, mean that a reasonable dialogue is not possible.

        By the way, the 88 people who have rented an apartment at 12th Ave Arts were also “living their lives” prior to moving in there…somehow they were organized enough to snag a spot.

      • Sounds like artists become the victims of their own success.

        Truth is, one single project can’t solve all the underlying issues but this is a good way to bring in people who are *not* gentrifying the area don’t you think? And there certainly are artists living in 12th ave arts.

      • Calhoun, I’m coming from hostility but I’m annoyed by the insensitivity and ignorant assertions. “Ignorant” means lacking in knowledge. On this issue, you and many others appear to be lacking some basic knowledge. Your reply only underscores my point. See, artists -more often than not- “live their lives”, earning their keep and doing what others do, AND spend huge chunks of their time MAKING ART. It can be quite the hectic time and attention sucking schedule. Go on with your passive aggressive posts ;-)

        Dre: Artists are more the victims of a thankless, money & greed-driven system. I’d like to think you would especially get that. Let’s NOT blame the victims, please ;-)

        Displacement occurs (for artists and many others) due to failed policies being utilized over and over again because they make greedy people rich and keep the financially successful awash in self-importance. While these 88 units are great (!!!) and Capitol Hill Housing is to be commended, they are such a tiny drop in the proverbial bucket; our city government is failing, just like most other urban governments are. Ignoring basic equity is not so far from infringing on basic freedom -which last time I checked, was not supposed to be up for sale. :-)

    • Agree on the lighting. I think whatever look they were going for didn’t end up translating well in real life. It just kind of looks like the rest of the sign is burnt out.

  2. Really glad that a unique project such as this chose such exciting colors for the exterior such as: Beige, grey, and more beige. Inspiring architecture Seattle. Well done!

  3. Although it is true that SPD pushed back on the project for many years, that time is past and its water under the bridge at this point. The rest of Chris Persons statement last night noted that now that the project has been completed, SPD is quite satisfied with its new secure facility. Deputy Chief Carmen Best was also quite supportive in her words at the event and seemed to “get” the “community” part of community policing. Based on first impressions, her promotion by Chief O’Toole was an excellent move.

  4. I was commuting from suburbs 60+ minutes each way on I-5 to my job on Broadway. Now I’ve gotten rid of my car and replaced it with a 10 minute walking commute. Thanks to this blog because that’s how I learned about the first come first serve application process of CHH