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Process begins for the end of the Central District’s Midtown Center as we know it

(Image: Forterra)

Change set to split the community around 23rd and Union among those who consider it a central part of the neighborhood’s social fabric and those who will be happy to see it go is finally coming. Preliminary paperwork has been filed for the demolition of Midtown Center.

The six demolition permit applications filed October 4th aren’t anywhere near approval from the City of Seattle but the paperwork is yet another reminder that the corner is set for its latest and biggest transformation yet.

The permits cover the existing and still operating commercial buildings in the center as well as the empty residential structures on the block and the small cafe in the middle of the parking lot. “Commercial bldg. (The small café). I don’t know the address, perhaps 2301 23rd Ave,” the application for that demolition reads.

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The redevelopment of the block has been a flashpoint for community anxiety regarding gentrification in the Central District and the Midtown Center has been called home by a number of minority owned businesses. The first Midtown property parcels were purchased by the Bangasser family 75 years ago and the family had been managing it for decades before its $23.25 million sale to Lake Union PartnersPaul Bangasser was active in the neighborhood’s fight for racial equality and fair housing, according to his 1992 obituary.

Once considered the core of the area’s “open air drug market,” crime around Midtown Center has been part of the corner’s reputation even as incidents have steadily decreased. But as a wave of gun violence ending the summer around the Central District including a shooting at Midtown Center in July has mostly subsided, new neighbors and longtime residents still experience more than their fair share of gunshots. In response to the shootings, The East Precinct boosted patrols with SWAT and K9 units on the neighborhood’s streets. The mayor responded to neighborhood concerns — and criticism of the heavy handed response — with a plan to spend $7 million on youth violence programs.

An aerial view used in a sales pitch for the property before its purchase by Lake Union Partners

It’s not clear what the timeline for approval and then execution of the Midtown demolition permits will be. Businesses including the liquor store and longtimer Earl’s Cuts are still active in the center. And an art project from Africatown with funding to continue the work into the next year from the city’s Neighborhood Matching Fund has added new color and activation to the center. UPDATE: A representative for Lake Union Partners tells CHS that it is currently planning demolition for early winter 2019.

The legendary Earl’s is set to move across E Union into the under construction affordable housing and retail project the Liberty Bank Building from Capitol Hill Housing when it opens in mid-2019. That Brown Girl Cooks! is also slated to join Earl’s in the Liberty Bank Building and, hopefully, the two businesses along with some yet to be announced will create a successful retail mix. In the past, a credit union was in the mix — as was a new project from the legendary sister duo behind Capitol Hill’s dearly departed Kingfish Cafe but we haven’t heard any new updates on the projects.

As for what comes next at Midtown Center, a second attempt to get the project through design review is slated for December. Despite complaints that design for the three-piece, seven-story apartment building with 429 apartment units and underground parking for 258 vehicles looked too “South Lake Union” and calls for a more Central District-centered process, the project is currently planned to remain under the purview of the East Design Review Board that covers neighborhoods including Capitol Hill, the Central Area, and Madison Park. It’s not clear what role if any will be played by members of the Central Area Design Review Board created earlier this year by splitting off the Central District neighborhoods from the East region in an effort to preserve and grow the historically Black culture of the Central District.

In addition to more than 400 units of new, market-rate and affordable housing, developer Lake Union Partners has been in talks with pharmacy chain Bartell Drugs to occupy a large retail space on the corner of 23rd and Union. A plaza on the corner of 24th and Union, meanwhile, will feature the James Washington Fountain, which the sculptor saw as a symbol of the struggle of African Americans.

The development has been planned to 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). City records indicate the project has yet to designate whether it will build the affordable units as planned or pay into the city’s MHA program in lieu of the affordable units.

The Lake Union Partners project will take place on 80% of the Midtown block, while the other 20% of the property was sold by Lake Union Partners to Africatown Community Land Trust and Capitol Hill Housing. The two projects, which have separate design review processes, will share a familial plaza that will be gated from the public.

Once complete, the developments will create about 250 affordable housing apartments and 280 market rate units. The Midtown Center project will also include 25,000 square feet of retail, “10,000 of which is planned for small scale, locally owned businesses,” the developers say.

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12 thoughts on “Process begins for the end of the Central District’s Midtown Center as we know it

    • There have always been two courtyards planned. A larger one open to the community in the center of the LUP project will be open to the public, the smaller one between the LUP project and the Africatown project will be for residents only.

      All of this information is readily available via a quick search of the site.

  1. Would love to see the Kingfish Cafe open in this space, Bartell”s too. With regard to the open space, I hope it doesn’t revert to a hangout for the hoodlums that have plagued this area for years.

    • This is a concern for a lot of local residents.

      Representatives of Lake Union Partners have said repeatedly that they would be responsible for security going forward, but I can’t help but wonder if they really understand what that’s going to involve.

    • The public courtyard is an absolutely moronic idea.

      Given the ongoing problems at this particular
      block, and the fact that these poorly conceived public spaces never turn out as planned (or are ever as nice as shown in the fancy architectural renderings) I’m really surprised it made it into the final form of the project.

      Then again, given the weird resistance to any development on this ugly, aging block with its decrepit buildings, large parking lots, crime problems, gross post office, ugly public art, liquor store and I’m sure I’m missing something…well, I guess we should just be happy that anything is happening at all?

      • The liquor store is clean and they are friendly, so are the folx at the post office. And every African American man I know in the neighborhood goes to Earl’s to get his hair cut. I thought putting up the Imagine Africatown made it look pretty neat. What am I missing here?

  2. The focusing solely on the black history of that neighborhood is racist. It has a long a varied history but only one racial group is getting any attention. Also, considering that blacks make up less than 10% of the population in that area constantly trying to frame it as a cultural hub for “the black community” is weird and racist. I feel a lot of people involved are racial nationalists and extortionists. The city and private enterprise shouldn’t be funding this. It’s racist and a pattern of taxpayer money being disproportionately spent meeting the constant demands of the black activist community

    • 1. You should probably look up the word racist, I don’t think it means what you think it does.

      2. The CD was 80%+ African American at one point, think it’s appropriate to recognize this history with a plaque or two commemorating significant people/events/establishmemts (eg like what Liberty Bank building is doing), murals, or say a fountain. It can add context to the neighborhood and tie it to its past.

      3. Agree that activists have hijacked the sale of this parcel/design review process and have drawn out this development way to long. Like pretty much everyone else that comments on here, I can’t say goodbye to this crime ridden corner soon enough!

      • Not sure how that is racist, in that the racism inflicted on Black people i.e. Redlining them to that section of the City for home purchasing to isolate them from white people in Seattle – limiting values of homes, diminishing the investments in infrastructure and capital improvements, etc.. However, the focus on Black people and other people of color in the CD has been based on white racism. This is the cost of Equity – we get to have monuments, plaques, sculptures, names, and economic benefits supported in ways to offset and restore some level of justice. The CD became a magnet for the unaware and history-absent gentrifiers, and is now placed Black people as the new barrier to a “more rich and vibrant urban hub for walkability, safety, and activity…” I am a trained urban planner and lived and work in the CD for 25+ years, raised kids here, years of watching this happen…..the continued positioning that “we still haven’t fully colonized the CD because there are activists and thugs threatening the settlers.” is still a very obvious thematic tone in these comments. There is a deeper conversation that will always need to take place in community – and part of that is the inability for most people to consider much more than their own limited view of a “thing” in a “place” – but nobody was really trying to gentrify Kent or Kenmore – but there was displacement and relocations of the “new redlines” in the suburban communities that white parents and grandparents got nearly free money from the government and banks to create their own communities away from urban spaces where they now complain are too “gritty” and “still wreak of 1980’s social ill’s” – yeah we do still feel that shit. It’s called rolling disparities. The system is getting worse if you didn’t notice while you were drinking cold brew on your $3000 electric bicycle with hemp clothing on. You want solutions to the crime ridden corner – you gotta invest in building a community that ain’t all about socio-cultural-environmental shaming.

        Yes, it’s an open market, and its capitalism, yes..yes..yes. All counter-statements of the unaware and privileged.

    • You sir, demonstrate absolutely no understanding for what’s going on here.

      CD was majority Black, 70-80% until the early 2000s. Black folks looking to buy a home could not do so outside of the CD due to racially restrictive housing coventants in neighborhoods such as Ballard. It in turn served as a hub of Black business, and families.