Africatown, sustainability nonprofit Forterra make offer to buy 23rd and Union’s Midtown Center

There is a new deal in the works to purchase the Central District’s Midtown Center that would put Africatown at the center of redeveloping the 2.4-acre property while giving a nonprofit dedicated to sustainability an even greater new focus beyond the region’s forests on the streets around 23rd and Union.

“Whether proving a home for old growth forest, or preservation of the African American legacy in Seattle,” Forterra’s Michelle Connor tells CHS a deal with Africatown to purchase the property would be about “preserving places for people to have thriving assets.”

The organizations have submitted a letter of intent to purchase the property, Connor said Monday.

Acceptance of the offer would mean “a greater chance for inclusive development at 23rd and Union that provides sanctuary for a valuable part of the community that is being pushed out,” Africatown head K. Wyking Garrett tells CHS.

The move comes two weeks after an agreement for shopping center developer Regency Centers, Lennar Multifamily Communities, and Africatown to acquire and develop Midtown Center fell through with the design process for two seven-story buildings and nearly 500 apartments, along with a grocery store, pharmacy, and smaller retail spaces already in motion.

In that partnership, Africatown and Garrett were lined up to work with Forterra to finance the southern portion of the Midtown site. The new offer could put Africatown in a much larger role. Connor says the new “longshot” offer will require Africatown to partner with both nonprofit and for-profit developers to secure permanent financing after an “interim” period in which Forterra puts up the initial investment. It’s the same basic structure originally planned in the Lennar/Regency deal — but at a much larger scale.

Garrett says the re-start on the acquisition could give Africatown the opportunity to forge a project that builds on the ideas behind the “inclusive development”-focused Liberty Bank Building being led by nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing at 24th and Union. That building is designed to have 115 studio, one-bedroom and two bedroom apartments and four commercial spaces. Apartments will be available at 30 to 60% of the area median income, ranging in price from $434 to $1,154. Capitol Hill Housing has formed a partnership with Africatown, the Black Community Impact Alliance, and Centerstone to develop the project under a memorandum of understanding that calls encouragement of black-owned businesses, marketing focused on black tenants, and for possible African-American community-based ownership of the building.

Midtown Center’s long march toward inclusive development, meanwhile, continues. Long held by the Bangassers, CHS reported on the 2016 family legal fight that had previously held up agreement on a $23.5 million deal to sell the land to developers. What the land is worth now will be up to what the Bangassers are willing to take in a deal with Africatown and Forterra — or what they can find on the open market.

For Forterra, a land deal on the scale of around $20 to $25 million will be a major milestone in its history of conversation and investment. Over its 25 years, the nonprofit has invested about $500 million across around 250,000 acres of forests, wetlands, and, maybe now, city streets. It is funded by “blending public and private sources” including donations and grants.

Connor said while this major opportunity at Midtown represents growth of a new component for Forterra’s investments, giving Africatown a stake in the neighborhood’s redevelopment fits squarely in its mission to move beyond for-profit real estate to provide space for community organizations to create a more sustainable environment. “The market doesn’t really accommodate that,” Connor said.

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15 thoughts on “Africatown, sustainability nonprofit Forterra make offer to buy 23rd and Union’s Midtown Center

  1. I take issue with the notion that black residents of the CD are being “pushed out.” That phrase implies some kind of conspiracy. Certainly, market forces such as increased rent are resulting in some people moving to less expensive places, but this is happening in many neighborhoods, such as Capitol Hill. For those black homeowners who are selling and moving elsewhere, I suspect that in most cases they are simply taking advantage of the increased equity in their homes. If they are on a fixed income and are having trouble paying their property taxes, reverse mortgages can allow them to stay in their homes.

    • So gentrification doesn’t exist? I think you are wrong and out of touch. There have been so many other ridiculous debates about this on this site, I’m not even going to go into detail.

    • I think what he is saying is that not all black residents of the CD have been pushed out by higher rents or property taxes, which is a narrative that is frequently repeated on this and other blogs.

      When I first moved to Madison Valley years ago, there were four black households on our block out of about a dozen houses. There are still four black households on that block. On the next street over, three black households are no longer in the neighborhood, because they sold and moved at their own choice (two were retired couples ready to sell, and another was a lady still years from retirement, but wanted to be closer to her kids in the South). All three made a huge profit on the sale of their houses, since they bought years ago when housing prices in Seattle were still within reach.

      In our current house, one of the black households that were in our little neighborhood when we moved in is still there; our other black neighbors sold (again, moved to the South) and their house was purchased by family that is bi-racial.

      Yes, gentrification exists, and I’m sure you could find many examples and post them here like I have. But blanket statements that blacks have been displaced or “pushed out” by rising rents are just lazy and ignore the reality for a lot of black households in the area – namely ones that made a choice to sell, and also made a killing on the sale of their houses in this hyper-inflated market.

    • I was going to make the same point. On my Madison Valley block, two homes were sold by their black owners voluntarily and with joy (they were able to move closer to their kids and retire in comfort). It was like winning the lottery, as one of the sellers said.

      My block is now measurably less diverse, and while gentrification is a likely culprit, the invisible hand of the market rather than some anti-black conspiracy is driving the basic economic process.

    • The black mother and adult son behind me sold their tiny, nearly condemned “war box” 2 bedroom for 900K and moved to what he calls “a damned palace” in Kent. They saw the opportunity to make a lot of profit and get a bigger, nice house in the balance vs. staying in a house with 1950’s kitchen/bath & a bedroom in the basement. Not everyone moves because they’re being priced out – some move because right now vs. a few years ago they’ll gain the maximum profit and the kids are grown.

    • you all are misinformed, how many black families have bought houses on your block is the question you should be asking yourself. Yes black residents are being pushed out, you don’t have to feel bad about it or deny it. I hope this deal works out because it sounds like a great opportunity to make the neighborhood better

    • It would be super sweet to see actual people of color in the CD sharing their experiences here, rather than just white people’s interpretations of them.

      Anyone? ;-)

    • all are fair points, but Sean’s point is really what I’m concerned about. Black families moving out are benefiting, but will their children be able to buy houses in the neighborhood? I think a lot of black people in the neighborhood are also concerned about the loss of their culture in the area. I went to Garfield, not that long ago, but when the neighborhood felt a lot different. I took the #2 bus home to Madrona from 23rd and Union, and I definitely felt out of place there, it didn’t feel like my neighborhood, but I was fine with that, black people probably feel like that in most neighborhoods in Seattle, and increasingly more so.

    • Here’s another perspective:
      Let’s just say (not only for the sake of argument, but because it happens), that gay people move into a lower-priced neighborhood, usually with more than a scattering of black people and other minorities, and start fluffing it up. Property values increase, lots of gays (and lots of their minority neighbors, too) sell their houses at big profits to lots of non-gay, non-minority buyers, and move. They move off to other neighborhoods, and their minority neighbors move to other (or the same) neighborhoods too, and start re-creating community in their new neighborhoods. Now everyone anguishes over the loss of blackness and black culture (and other minorities) in those fluffed-up neighborhoods. Not so much anguishing over loss of gayness in the same neighborhoods. Why not? Should gays fret that gays will no longer be able to afford to live in that neighborhood? Should they care– or should they dive into re-creating community in their new neighborhoods? Is the answer different for the minorities? If so, why? And don’t anyone even say, “it’s not the same– there isn’t really a gay culture”. Yes, there is.

    • Jim, I think you’re right. It is the same. For any group that is discriminated against in larger society but finds community together in a smaller society. Of course gay people are being gentrified from Capitol Hill, and people are mourning over the loss of culture and history and community.

      Its hard to know what to do about it, especially since we can’t all even agree it is a problem.

    • thanks Amy. I also am a white person who went to Garfield. I couldn’t believe the examples given by the commenters on this page. @from the valley, there are 4 black families on your block when you bought your house, if the whole block was black would you still have bought your same house? your neighbors moved south to be closer to their kids, don’t you realize that their kids couldn’t afford to buy a house in the neighborhood where they grew up? @David Holmes, yes it is the market but there are factors which decide whether someone is able to be in the market in the first place, how come so few of the children of the black homeowners are able to purchase houses in the neighborhood where they grew up? No one has an easy path to success but for some people the cards are more stacked against them and it’s important to realize what advantages you had that allowed you to be successful and did not allow the same for your peers. you don’t have to feel bad about it, but you should understand that the world is not fair

    • Almost NOBODY’S kids can afford to buy in the neighborhood their parents live in. BECAUSE THEY’RE KIDS! When their parents were kids, THEY couldn’t afford to live in those neighborhoods, either. It’s the nature of growing up, getting higher-paying jobs, and saving money. Hell– I’m pushing 60 and *I* can’t afford to live in the neighborhood my parents live in, either. And I’m white, and they’re not rich. This isn’t a situation unique to minority neighborhoods.

    • What does this have to do with Forterra? This article is about a Seattle Public Schools-related organization. Why are you comparing this to the work that Forterra does?

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