The rapid change underway around 23rd and Union is shaping up to include a partnership for “inclusive development” between massive developers Lennar Multifamily Communities and Regency Centers with community group Africatown to create a full-block shopping center and housing project in the heart of the Central District. But what happens in the meantime?
The Bangasser family, longtime owner of the Midtown Center, say they have been working on improvements to make the property safer over the last couple years and soon hope to bring new tenants to the block. Margaret Delaney tells CHS they plan to post lease listings soon. The center’s kiosk is already on Craigslist. The 500-square-foot space is listed at $1,500 a month and is available for a “short term lease (1-2 years) or possible month-to-month if prefer.”
K. Wyking Garrett, CEO of Africatown, tells CHS that this is the time to invest in the present and the future at 23rd and Union.
“We need more positive development, more investment,” Garrett said. “There is a need to support and grow black-owned businesses.”
Developers Lennar Multifamily Communities and Regency Centers along with Encore Architects are planning two seven-story buildings with around 350 units in one and 120 in the other. Plans also include a large local grocery store, pharmacy, smaller retail spaces and nearly 500 underground parking spaces. CHS looked at the design here. An agreement between developers to sell Africatown about 20% of the 2.4-acre property at 23rd and Union to give the nonprofit an ownership stake was being finalized. Regency is currently under contract to purchase the block for what will likely be a more than $20 million price tag. In January, the design review board and developers agreed the complicated, block-sized project with a potential community partner in Africatown should return for a second review later this year.
Africatown is a nonprofit led by Garrett that advocates for more positive culture and community economic development” for Seattle’s Black community and the Central District.
Garrett said Africatown is still moving forward with partners for its part in the massive project. “We are still optimistic, still moving forward,” Garrett said. “For equitable, inclusive development. And not the Trump style development that we’ve been seeing.”
In December, Hugh Bangasser told CHS the recent improvements the family has made to address safety at Midtown Center includes bringing in new tenants. Delaney told CHS while there have been some businesses that have come and gone recently, one that’s “relatively new” and has stuck is Black Dot, an organization that provides “space, knowledge, and support for creatives to operate and grow their business” and “a culturally responsive community for Black entrepreneurs.” It opened in November 2015. Garrett says Black Dot’s work is critical helping to build and maintain the neighborhood’s Black business community.
Essence Transportation, a non-emergency ride service focused on medical and special needs students transportation, also moved into the center about two years ago, Delaney said.
Longtime tenants also include Earl’s Cuts and Styles, 99 Cents Plus, and a cafe, currently called Union Cafe.
Other steps the family partnership has taken to try to improve the center include:
- Enhanced lighting along the 23rd Avenue business front of the Midtown Center building to East Spring;
- For over a year we have pursued, and cooperated with City actions for, vacation and clean-up of the site at Spring and 24th;
- Obtained the peaceful departure of between 15 and 20 individuals who had set up an unauthorized, unlawful and unpermitted homeless encampment there;
- Hauled from the site a substantial volume of the trash and junk although we have been hindered in that removal by others there;
- Repaired retaining walls along Spring and 24th and reduced shrubbery and tree overhang on the site;
- Brought new small business tenants to the Midtown Center – two along 24th Union, one at 23rd and Spring, and two in the old post office space; and
- Cleaned up and restored the kiosk at MidTown Center to make it suitable for commercial, non-food rental.
“I think just getting rid of cracked glass and fixing fencing and seriously upping the lighting has made a difference,” Delaney said. “It was financially hard. We couldn’t do it all at once, but every month (we’ve done) something else.”
Along with improving the lighting and making repairs to broken glass and the fence, the Bangassers have also hired a landscaper to keep things clean.
“It’s a never ending job,” Delaney told CHS.
For neighbors who live nearby in the rapidly developing streets around 23rd and Union, concerns have been more about gunfire, sirens, and cops. Two December incidents one involving gunfire and the other a reported shootout are the latest bout of gun violence on the property. In October, police investigated two shootings inside Midtown that left two men injured under nearly identical circumstances.
Even with the late 2016 shootings, Delaney said the police have told her they have noticed the improvements have made a difference.
Construction on the new Midtown development likely won’t start until early 2018. In the meantime, Delaney and her family will continue to maintain the property and try to increase tenants at the property.
Delaney said once the proposed seven-story, mixed-use development is complete the area will thrive. She points at recent nearby developments The Central Apartments and Stencil Apartments as success stories.
“It’s kind of encouraging because every time I look across the street, it’s something that’s been very successful,” Delaney said of The Central.