A confluence of Seattle’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis, the waves of development that continue to reshape Central Seattle, and a Seattle spiritual center with a 125-year history of community making plans to be part of that change has resulted in tumult around 19th and Madison’s Mount Zion Baptist Church.
The Seattle Medium, part of “the largest African American owned and operated communications company in the Pacific Northwest,” is reporting on frustration and confusion surrounding church leadership’s efforts to sell off properties across Seattle:
One of the great fears that many members of Mount Zion Baptist Church has is that the pastor and trustee board will begin selling off valuable church property. Well, that is a reality that may soon take place as members of the church leadership — including the pastor, trustees and church treasurer — are poised to try to sell off parts of Mt. Zion’s property, the church’s most valuable financial resource with an estimated total value of $51 million.
The Medium reports that an all-church meeting is planned for Sunday morning following services to vote on the undisclosed sales plans.
According to the Medium, the plans include the building on renamed Rev. Dr. S. McKinney Ave across the street from the church currently home to youth homeless center Peace for the Street by Kids from the Streets. House Speaker Frank Chopp said Saturday he added $1.5 million state funding for PSKS to a supplemental budget now making its way through the Legislature. The organization, which provides shelter and services to homeless youth, has also been buttressed by Seattle’s increased spending on homelessness. No sale of the building has been announced and we have not yet heard back from PSKS if it is working to purchase the property Mount Zion acquired for $2.1 million in 2007.
UPDATE: While no plans have been finalized, PSKS executive director Susan Fox tells CHS that the shelter does have its eye on purchasing the church’s 3-story annex building using state funds. The nonprofit has rented the ground floor space and a third-floor office for two years, but taking over existing apartments on the second floor with enough capacity to house some 20 people could be a crucial asset for the shelter, Fox said.
“They’re like college suites, with a common area and a bathroom,” she said. “They’re perfect for somebody to move in to.”
PSKS’s current lease with the church ends in 2018.
Mount Zion, which also owns other land in the area around 19th and Madison, has major plans for its main church property thanks to a long-term planning process that created a framework for “a major expansion of new and existing structures.” Here is how a City Council document described the Mount Zion Baptist Church Master plan in 2012:
A public process around the planning effort was apparently put on hold in 2011. “We’re looking at more community oriented spaces as well as some commercially oriented spaces along East Madison Street and still trying to consolidate parking in a parking structure,” a planner told CHS at the time. Mel Streeter, a Seattle architect who opened the first black-owned architecture firm in Seattle, also contributed work to the project before his 2006 death.
In 2015, Mount Zion celebrated 125 years in Seattle. According to our Re:Take history of the church, Mount Zion was founded in the 1890s, and for its first decade rented a few different spaces downtown. Church members date Mount Zion to 1890 when “a small group of African Americans held prayer services in their homes.” The church eventually bought its own property and moved to 11th and Union joining another African American — First African Methodist Episcopal (First A.M.E.) at 14th and Pine. 24 years later, Mount Zion moved to its present day home. In 2014, a quarter-mile stretch of 19th Ave was renamed to honor Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney. The pastor emeritus, born in 1926, was unable to attend this year’s MLK Day service at Zion due to health reasons, church officials said.