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.