With a multimillion land deal looming in the background that could make the community group part of what it calls “inclusive development” in the Central District, Africatown says it is taking on “Trump-style real estate discrimination” over the effort to evict work space and business incubator Black Dot from the 23rd and Union shopping center.
The community organization run by K. Wyking Garrett has called for a press conference Monday afternoon at the site of Black Dot’s space inside Midtown Center complex:
Today, at 4 p.m., community leaders in support of Black Dot – a business incubator and economic development center providing technical assistance to African American-owned and operated businesses and microenterprises – will host a press conference and rally protesting the recent illegal attempts made to evict the business advocacy group from its current headquarters.
The dispute follows efforts last week for the Midtown Center Partnership, the Bangasser family company, to clear out Black Dot including changing the locks on the commercial berth being used for the work space following the end of the contract with the leaseholder in the partnership of community groups that helped start the location last year.
Police were called to help sort things out Friday but left the property owners to deal with starting a formal eviction process:
Hack the CD, one group involved in starting up Black Dot, declined to comment on the situation. A representative for Garrett told CHS we could ask our questions at the Monday afternoon press conference.
In February, CHS reported on the quest for more tenants to fill the Midtown Center and join longer-term tenants including Black Dot.
The dispute at Black Dot isn’t the only tangle being worked out between the Garrett and Bangasser families. Earlier this month, eviction papers were served to Omari Tahir Garrett after a long running legal fight over the house he has lived in at 24th and Spring on the backside of the Midtown Center block. The elder Garrett and his UMOJA Peace Center have been ordered to leave the property in eviction proceedings that included the 70-year-old being jailed after repeated courtroom outbursts. A March 4th Black Lives Matter protest march included a stop in front of the 24th and Spring house to rally support.
For K. Wyking Garrett, the dispute with the Bangassers clouds the future of a planned Africatown collaboration with Forterra that would put the organization best known for helping to finance the purchase of old growth forests and other environmentally sensitive land into a partnership with the Central District community group to help finance the purchase of the Midtown Property.
“What is the long-term, significant benefit that the Black community has seen from the presence of companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Facebook? Being pushed out of Seattle?” Garrett asks in the announcement of Monday’s press conference.
“We need more than companies [who are] just hosting mixers, sponsoring isolated events and visits to [their] campuses,” the announcement quotes Garrett as saying. “Black businesses in general, and the Black community as a whole, should be thriving in Seattle, as opposed to being picked off, one by one, because we’ve been systematically denied the opportunity build substantive value in a city we’ve lived in for well over a hundred years.”
Forterra’s Michelle Connor says the dispute is illustrative of the larger issues of development in the Central District. “Recent developments at 23rd and Union highlight how vulnerable longtime neighborhood residents can be to displacement,” she writes. “Working with partners, Forterra is using its real estate expertise in the hope of creating opportunities for community ownership.”
For now, Black Dot continues to make its home in the middle of Midtown Center and the property remains on the market, CHS is told. Monday’s press conference, by the way, will be held in Black Dot’s Midtown Center space.
UPDATE 8:35 PM: In a more than two hour discussion of the situation and with attendees sticking around after to further discuss their strategy, Africatown CEO K. Wyking Garrett said a coalition is forming to “stop the attack on Black Dot,” and support an inclusive, community-lead development solution at Midtown Center.
“The fact that we are here today under these conditions highlights the vulnerability to displacement and the absence of community ownership and the urgent need for inclusive equitable development solutions in our community that are lead by the community,” Garrett said.
Seattle City Council candidate and county NAACP vice president Sheley Secrest attended the session as did a representative from Kshama Sawant’s office, activist Andre Taylor, and Tom Bangasser, a member of the family that owns the Midtown Center who has been critical of the family’s efforts to sell and develop the property.
Garrett said while plans are in the works for the old Fire Station 6 to be a permanent home for Black Dot, the black community doesn’t want to just be part of the history of the neighborhood.
“We want to be here in the future. We want in,” Garrett said.
In the meantime, the Africatown CEO says Black Dot will have to be evicted from the work space to leave Midtown Center. “Black Dot is a tenant,” Garrett said.
Jeffrey Cheatham, a children’s book author who has become a Black Dot regular, said he wants his community to keep its place in the area. “It’s about legacy. It’s about passing something on for our kids 10, 15, 20 years from now that we put the groundwork in for today because we gave a damn,” Cheatham said.
“Black Dot needs to stay.”
Secrest and Rebekah Liebermann, an aide from Kshama Sawant’s office, spoke to larger issues of change in the Central District.
“We’ve got the tools and the ability to stop (gentrification). The question from the NAACP is do we really have the will?” Secrest asked.
Lieberman, meanwhile, spoke to Sawant’s ongoing calls for a tax on the wealthy of Seattle. “If we actually did this, if we taxed the super wealthy, we could have housing and studio spaces that artists could actually afford to be in,” she said.
Garrett, too, called for more to be done to give organizations like his more time, saying a moratorium on upzoning and development that displaces people is needed.
With reporting by Kaylee Osowski