Lennar Multifamily Communities, a California-based subsidiary of the Fortune 500 company Lennar, has filed a preliminary site plan for Midtown Center that includes two construction sites on the 106,000-square-foot property once home a U.S. Post Office at 23rd and Union. Aside from noting residential and commercial uses, the paperwork offers little insight into Lennar’s development ideas.
So far the plan is just a preliminary study, according to a representative from Encore Architects, the firm working with Lennar on the project. There was no official record of a sale for Midtown as of Tuesday. A $23.5 million deal with another California-based developer, Legacy Partners, fell through earlier this year as the longtime family owners of the property continue their legal wrangling over the future of the site at the heart of the Central District.
23rd and Union would be the latest in a series of big plays for Lennar in Seattle since 2013, when the company entered a bidding war to poach a manager from another national developer to lead its push into the northwest. Brad Reisinger, who is leading the Midtown plans for Lennar, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Prior to its 23rd and Union acquisition, Lennar had its sight set on another neighborhood-defining project when it submitted a proposal to develop the Capitol Hill Station “transit oriented development” sites on Broadway. Lennar is in the early stages of developing a mixed-use project at 22nd and E Madison. Meanwhile, construction is underway at Lennar’s 389-unit West Seattle project, The Whittaker, which will include a Whole Foods on the ground floor.
In 2015 Lennar Multifamily created a $1.1 billion equity fund to power multifamily projects “and then holding those communities in a portfolio long term for cash flow.”
The Midtown sale was put in motion last year after Tom Bangasser’s siblings voted to remove him as controlling member of Midtown Limited Partnership, which has owned the property for generations. He told CHS his siblings had grown impatient with his vision to transfer ownership of the property to a land trust that would come under community control. With Bangasser demoted, the siblings contracted realtors Kidder Matthews, which rolled out a slick website to help sell the property.
Bangasser responded by filing a lawsuit against his family to challenge his ouster and receive compensation for his for his decades of managing the property. In January, a King County Superior Court judge partially sided with the partnership, agreeing that Bangasser had been lawfully removed as a general partner and that another member of the partnership would now lead the group with the authority to sell. The judge recently ordered Bangasser to pay nearly $16,000 in legal fees to his family.
Last week, Bangasser filed an appeal of the decisions. In the meantime, he has taken steps to put Africatown activists at the table of a Midtown deal.
Bangasser tells CHS he recently sold part of his share in the Midtown partnership to the Africatown Center for Education & Innovation. According to Bangasser, his siblings still need to vote on the transaction to make it final, though it is unclear what power those shares will hold. Bangasser said the Africatown group also submitted a proposal to purchase the property from the family partnership.
“Africatown really wants to own the property,” Bangasser said. “This is a property that really ought to remain in the community.”
The first Midtown property parcels were purchased by the Bangassers’ father 75 years ago and Tom Bangasser has been managing it for decades.
The redevelopment of the block has been a flashpoint for community anxiety regarding gentrification in the Central District, Seattle’s historically African American neighborhood. The Midtown Center is and has been called home by a number of minority owned businesses, such as Earl’s Cuts and Styles and Sam’s Moroccan Sandwich Shop, which closed late last year. Other businesses along 23rd Ave are feeling the pains of change with an ongoing road construction project, which may have claimed its first business casualty.
Nop Zay, the owner of First Cup Coffee, recently closed her drive-through coffee kiosk at Midtown Center citing the 23rd Ave upheaval. Despite the infusion of $25,000 from the city to help her struggling, business, Zay told the Globalist that sales reduced to a trickle as crews ripped up 23rd Ave to improve the street and install a new sewer line.
After saying for months there was no legal framework to offer small businesses direct assistance, Mayor Ed Murray relented by creating the 23rd Avenue Business Stabilization Fund. To qualify for assistance, businesses must have five or fewer employees and demonstrate the project has negatively impacted the business.
The $43 million construction project is expected to finish next year.
The area around 23rd and Union continues to be busy with development. 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.