A protest against gentrification and displacement in the Central District that followed the eviction of a longtime neighborhood activist from his 24th and Spring home showed just how personal the tumult around change can be as the Madrona home of a 23rd and Union property owner was targeted — and the owner of a controversial marijuana store momentarily lost his cool Saturday night.
Protesters Saturday night gathered at 23rd and Union outside the office space where the Black business incubator Black Dot is being booted from the teed-up-for-redevelopment Midtown Center. The protest was a planned response after the eviction of Omari Tahir-Garret from the block earlier in the week. The rally and march eventually traveled all the way to Madrona where protesters said they were targeting the home of Hugh Bangasser, head of the family partnership that owns the Midtown Center and is planning to sell the property for redevelopment.
But the sparks flew late in the night after the march returned to 23rd and Union and organizer Cliff Cawthon brought the group to the parking lot of “gentrifier” Uncle Ike’s where the I-502 pot shop was once again surrounded by a mix of protesters, Seattle Police, and Ike’s security employees.
After one speaker’s long bullhorn diatribe targeting Ike’s and a gamut of targets, the last straw was apparently criticism of Hillary Clinton. It was at that point that video showed Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg, a longtime Central District real estate investor and entrepreneur, rush at the speaker and apparently try to grab the bullhorn setting off a small melee in the parking lot. “No one was touched,” Eisenberg responded in the comments on the video broadcast live and available on Facebook. “How am I big busines? (sic) Let’s get real. Bullies cannot be tolerated. I hate bullies.”
There were no reported arrests and no injuries in the set of brief scuffles that followed.
Uncle Ike’s is a CHS advertiser.
Earlier in the night, the focus was on Black Dot and Africatown’s presence at Midtown Center.
“Today, March 18th, we are supposed to be having a business development boot camp with entrepreneurs aspiring to use their talents to create self-sustainable enterprises for themselves, to control their own destinies,” K. Wyking Garrett, Black Dot co-founder and head of the Africatown nonprofit said. “But instead we’re responding to this unprovoked, arbitrary attack and attempt to lock us out of our space and stop and disrupt us providing important, valuable, critical knowledge, information, resources, networking to entrepreneurs of small businesses of this neighborhood who are getting pushed out of this neighborhood one by one.”
— Alex Garland (@AGarlandPhoto) March 19, 2017
Saturday’s action follows days of protest around 24th and Spring over the eviction of Tahir-Garrett. The property owners said that the longtime activist for African American reparations never held a formal lease for the house he lived in at 24th and Spring, according to court records. The Black Dot group, organized by Tahir-Garrett’s son K. Wyking Garrett, is also facing removal from the block as the family partnership continues to find a buyer for the $20 million+ land. People familiar with the situation told CHS the lease for Black Dot ended in February when another partner organization that held the contract decided not to remain as a tenant.
Organizers announced Saturday during the protest that Tahir-Garrett had been jailed following his eviction and chants of “Free Omari” echoed through the night but the 70-year-old’s name and other names he has been arrested and charged with crimes under in the past did not appear in the King County Jail registry this weekend. Organizers later in the night said Tahir-Garrett had been released but subsequently hospitalized.
What will come next at 23rd and Union appears to include the meltdown of any potential deal between K. Wyking Garrett, his Africatown organization, and the Bangasser family partnership. The dispute clouds efforts for Africatown and conservation investor Forterra to partner on a bid to purchase the Midtown Center block for a mixed-use project based in what the groups said it had planned as inclusive development principles. The meltdown follows the failure of another deal to sell the land to for-profit developers Regency Centers and Lennar Multifamily Communities that would have also given Africatown a small opportunity to purchase and develop about 20% of the 2.4-acre property. In the meantime, Africatown remains part of the partnership in the memorandum of understanding around nonprofit affordable developer Capitol Hill Housing’s project to build the Liberty Bank building at 24th and Union in a model of what CHH says will be inclusive development that encourages Black identity, Black residents, and, possibly, Black ownership.