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23rd and Union development update: Notes on Africatown Plaza, Liberty Bank, and East Union’s New Seasons grocery

As developers snag every available piece of land in the booming real estate market of Central Seattle, African American community members demand a seat at the table when it comes to who fills the future Africatown portion of Midtown development at 23rd and Union. How do you address the concerns of a diverse community while understanding the history of the land the development is being built on? By meeting, bringing those voices together, and giving them a chance to express their concerns and desires for positive change.

Africatown is holding “Central Community Development Update” sessions to create a forum.

”We want to use this as a catalyst to build a database and organize and build capacity, so future projects can have greater participation,” Wyking Garrett said, addressing the Thursday evening crowd at the October update.

Garrett brought together a wide variety of voices at a meeting hosted by Africatown and held at the Casey Family Program near 23rd and Union. Garrett, a community organizer and head of the nonprofit Africatown, brought together developers and community members to give updates and discuss issues regarding continuing development of the Liberty Bank property, Midtown Center, and East Union. It was a packed meeting room, with over 75 people representing the community and unions.

Here are some of the night’s topics of discussion:

Liberty Bank Building
Crews planned to begin pouring concrete footings last week. Jill Fleming spoke on behalf of Capitol Hill Housing. She talked about possible outcomes of the Memorandum Of Understanding focusing on securing long term African American ownership in the community. The investors have a 15-year term, when that is up the nonprofit owner has the opportunity to purchase the building. In 15 years, Africatown will be able to step into that role. Part of the MOU is that they will prioritize minority and local subcontractors. CHH is working with Walsh construction out of Oregon. They currently have 30% women and minority subcontractors with 17% being African American subcontractors. The ground floor along Union will be retail with the corner space being a negotiated with a restaurant. The retail space will be affordable and marketed so CHH can maintain and preserve CD business or open space for emerging businesses.

Above the retail space will be five floors with 115 apartments. A one bedroom will be between $500-$1000 monthly based on income targets, well below most Capitol Hill rates. On the inside, courtyard, and outside of the building, they will feature 8 artists to honor the community culture and history. Another goal of Capitol Hill Housing will be to market the rentals to those who might be forced out because of housing situations in the Central District. While they have to comply with fair housing laws, they will let everyone know the information about how to secure one of those units. They expect move in to be around the first of the year in 2019.

Fleming also took time to answer questions:

What are the numbers? If we don’t see it, who do we hold accountable?
17% black contractors on project not including artists.

As far as commercial space, we’ve been reaching out to black business, make them aware and providing technical assistance so they can be prepared for new building. Hopefully we’ll have all black owned business in the space.

Residential will take a strong marketing effort itself to make people aware. We advocate for preference policy with the city, people who are connected with the community, suffered under redlining, disinvestment, etc. will be prioritized. As far as oversight, this meeting is an oversight mechanism. Ongoing, the community needs to stay updated.

Walsh is out of Oregon. Are we sending people from Oregon up here to do the work, and they’re taking the money home? We have people who live here and deserve this work.
Walsh is using local subcontractors.

Where is waiting list for home ownership program?
Africatown is driving the initiative to solve for housing needs. We have been talking to Homestead Land Trust to talk about that part. Doing Feasibility analysis. Not only site looking to do this. We just had a meeting today strategizing ownership structure. Going to be taking that to the city.

Is there a scheduled RFP for the online process?
“For Liberty Bank, CHH is experienced with the rent up and compliance. We want to have 115 households lined up and ready to move in with one month.” Jill Fleming

Midtown Center
Capitol Hill Housing has secured the project for community development with Africatown to develop Africatown Plaza, part of the larger Midtown Center project purchased by Lake Union Partners. The plan includes a mixed use, seven story building with an expected 130 units of affordable housing and retail at the ground level. Lake Union Partners representatives Joe Ferguson and Patrick Foley expect the anchor tenant of the Midtown project to be a pharmacy, which will allow the tenets with Africatown more affordable rates. “We want to make sure we’re collaborating with the community and the city.” The two discussed a possibility of a similar MOU as the Liberty Bank project, making sure there are agreements bringing in black subcontractors.

“We are looking to anchor the Midtown project with a drugstore, looking for best of class tenants in their space,” Fleming said.

New Seasons
Though it will be located across the street from the Midtown and Africatown Plaza developments, the coming grocery market was a major topic of discussion.

The building on the northwest side of 23rd and Union will have 144 Units, 18,000 square feet of retail anchored by a New Seasons grocery. The building will be covered with grey stained cedar, giving it a driftwood look. Large windows will accompany each two bedroom, one bedroom, and studio apartments. A significant part of the design is a large north facing courtyard which will have 24 hour public access to incorporate outdoor markets, movies, and celebrations.

Joe Ferguson and Patrick Foley from Lake Union Partners attended the session to talk about the their project.

“When we looked at New Seasons, knowing they’re a B Corp, they’re held to rigorous standards every year,” Ferguson said. “What we saw, is a community minded grocery store and one who is committed to come into the neighborhood and be a part of the solution. They make a commitment to hire within two miles of the store, 70%-80% from surrounding neighborhood. We worked with community throughout design review, during public meetings, and leaders in the community.

Union members Gerald Smiley and Kasi Farrer with UFCW spoke about their response to the choice of New Seasons as union members. With New Seasons being a Portland based company, they expect a lot of that money to be going back to Portland. UFCW talked to workers there and although New Seasons say they value diversity, that was not experienced by all workers.

New Season also had staff present to represent their interests in the development. Karinda Harris originally from the Central District, is New Season’s Seattle Community Manager. She was joined by Sarah Joannides the Director of Social Responsibility. Harris started working at New Seasons in August, and Sarah has been with the company 12 years. New Seasons has been in Portland for 20 years, has one store on Mercer Island, and will have a store in Ballard in the Spring and 23rd and Union by the end of 2018.

Harris and Joannides took questions during the discussion. Not all of them were easy to answer. One person asked how many of the 100 jobs the project will create will go to people of color? The answer? “I would envision that looking like the neighborhood,” Joannides said.

Construction on the East Union project, meanwhile, is two weeks ahead of schedule with an end of May, early June 2018 opening planned, and they expect New Seasons to open about six to seven months later.

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Bob Knudson
Bob Knudson
3 years ago

That area is lucky to have a New Seasons market, as by all accounts it is a quality business. I hope the fact that it is going in there will not preclude them also opening a store at the light rail development. We need an alternative to the mediocre QFC! Yes, Whole Foods will be at Broadway/Madison, but it’s expensive.

3 years ago

“The investors have a 15-year term, when that is up the nonprofit owner has the opportunity to purchase the building. In 15 years, Africatown will be able to step into that role. ”

I keep seeing a reference to this “opportunity”, but I never see any mention of where that money will come from. Did Africatown expound on where that money will come from, and/or who if anyone is behind any funding they have now? Do they have funding now?