The Liberty Bank Building still needs to go through design review — here’s a look at the three latest projects around 23rd and Union
Mayor Ed Murray’s administration has put its money where its mouth is in hopes that a Central District affordable housing project will become a model development in Seattle. The non-profit developers of the Liberty Bank Building will receive $12.2 million in funding from the city’s Office of Housing and $1 Million from the State of Washington for the mixed-use project at 24th and Union.
Capitol Hill Housing plans to use the Seattle Housing Levy funds to help build 115 units affordable to individuals and families earning $18,000 to $54,000 a year. CHH also has plans to incorporate local businesses into the project and to honor the site’s historical importance as the home of the region’s first black-owned bank. A community-based advisory board is helping steer the effort.
Construction isn’t planned to start until mid-2017 but the old Liberty Bank building came tumbling down in October. Environmental remediation is now underway at the site that was once home to a gas station.
CHS reported earlier this year on how the project has come to represent the aspirations of Murray’s administration to combine affordable housing, arts space/cultural identity, and economic development under one roof.
Liberty Bank could also be a model for how Mayor Murray intends to use an expanded Seattle Housing Levy, widely regarded as the backbone of affordable housing development in Seattle. This year Murray is asking voters to double the existing housing levy—which has collected $145 million since 2009—to $290 over the next seven years. This amounts to an annual increase by $122 for the median Seattle homeowner (up from $61 annually) as per city estimates.
The blueprint for utilizing the revenue is essentially the same, with the majority of the funds going towards increased investment capacity in the development, preservation, and operating and maintenance of projects, as well as $11.5 million in rental assistance for families at risk of eviction and homeless and $9.5 million in financial assistance for low-income homeowners and prospective homebuyers.
The Liberty Bank project will join blocks around 23rd and Union that are also busy with development. CHS broke news on a $23.5 million offer to buy the Midtown Center property on the southeast corner of 23rd and Union, which has been in place since late last year but held up by a lawsuit from longtime property manager Tom Bangasser against his family’s partnership that owns the land. Africatown-founder Omari Tahir-Garrett has also filed a lawsuit against the partnership and City Hall for racial harassment and back pay for managing the 23rd and Union property, where he operates the UMOJA P.E.A.C.E. Center.
One six-story building is now complete on the southwest corner and another just wrapping up design review on the northwest corner. Both are projects from private developer Lake Union Partners and both are being put together as market-rate developments — though a quest to upzone the northwest project will help the community have a little more influence over the development.
Capitol Hill Housing will also be seeking a contract rezone as part of the planned Liberty Bank Building project.
In 2014, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board rejected the 1968-built bank as a protected landmark despite support from the daughter of the bank’s founders, James C. and Mardine Purnell. The decision cleared the way for the Capitol Hill Housing development at the site to move forward. Liberty Bank operated at the site until 1988 when KeyBank took over. CHH had agreed to acquire the property from KeyBank in 2013 “at a rate well below its assessed market value, in order to develop a mixed-use building with affordable apartments and space for local businesses.”