Midtown Center redevelopment moves forward in design review process

A rendering of the planned, mostly public plaza (Image: Weinstein A+U)

The East Design Review Board Wednesday night gave its blessing to the early plans for redevelopment of the Midtown Center at 23rd and Union. The decision moves the project forward to the next phase in the process with hopes for better connections to the Africatown Plaza project that will neighbor it and a better approach to connecting the development’s massive internal plaza to the area’s surrounding community.

In a packed meeting room at Seattle University, community members who spoke during the public comments portion of the night’s proceedings expressed general support for the project but many said they hoped to see more thought given to design that highlighted the corner’s place in African American culture in the city.

The future view from Cal Anderson… will need more work

Broadway Bonney-Watson development kicked forward… barely
Meanwhile on Broadway… Public comments and the board were mostly in agreement Wednesday night — the Modera Broadway project won’t need a third pass in the early phase of the design review process but it will need a lot more work before the project gets by the board. Avoiding a relatively rare third “early design guidance” review, the board required an extra hour of deliberation as it asked developer Mill Creek Residential and Weber Thompson to do even more to activate the street level design along Nagle and connect the project to Cal Anderson, ultimately deciding three votes to two that the plans were close enough at this point to advance… like we said, barely. You can check out more on the “live/work unit”-heavy design proposal signed-off on Wednesday night here.

“Street life is the most important identifying characteristic,” one public speaker said about the corner, saying she was worried the design by Weinstein A+U architects is “taking all the life and energy to the internal courtyard.” “It’s not going to be a space that generates energy itself,” she said. Another described the early massing for the project as “Eurocentric” and “very linear.”

Other issues raised during public comment that resonated with the board centered on the plans for the corner of 23rd and Union. Speakers said the corner’s longtime cultural significance deserved a better treatment than the plans for a wider sidewalk and the board agreed that this could be an area to create a more welcoming opening to the plaza.

Another issue raised during public comment centered on the plans to restore the center’s Fountain of Triumph sculpture in a new location at 24th and Union along with a children’s play area. The board agreed the developers should rethink the plan for installing the feature at the busy 24th and Union corner of the development.

Speakers from Africatown including CEO K. Wyking Garrett and from the Central Area Land Use Review Committee spoke in support of the design proposal but said they want to see more from the Lake Union Partners plan to meet community priorities.

Architect Ed Weinstein touted the project’s plans for un-gated “portals” to connect the internal plaza to the surrounding streets and described the semi-public space as an area open to the public “24×7,” powered by the 12,000-square-foot “community drugstore” planned to anchor the development. The pharmacy and store will be a “local chain” and “not national chains or anything like that,” Weinstein said, calling the planned partnership “the economic engine” of the development. The anchor tenant has not yet been officially announced but the list of local pharmacy chains is relatively short and includes Seattle-headquartered Bartell’s. The semi-public plaza is also being planned to have a main restaurant tenant featuring “breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Weinstein said.

Overall, the Lake Union Partners project will create around 429 units in 273,000 square-feet of residential space, new restaurant and commercial space surrounding a large “public plaza,” and room for nearly 300 vehicles to park below ground. The project will include around 125 affordable housing units allocated for households earning between $40,000 and $65,000 per year or 60% to 85% of area-median income (AMI) built as part of both the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program and the Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program (MFTE).

Africatown and Capitol Hill Housing will develop a portion of the block with “120-135 affordable apartment homes, affordable to individuals with income as low as $26,880 – or 40% AMI” and about 3,000 square feet of retail. The developers say roughly 50% of the housing on the full-block will be affordable to people earning between 40-85% of area median income.

The Africatown-Capitol Hill Housing project will undergo a separate design review process expected to begin later this year.


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