With the nonprofit-developed, affordable housing-focused Liberty Bank Building set to open to start 2019, the other major project planned to reshape 23rd and Union with a mix of market-rate and affordable housing from a for-profit developer is hoped to wrap up its public design process for a start of construction next year.
Lake Union Partners, developers for the Midtown: Public Square, met with neighbors last month for two design conversations to discuss “community opportunities” before the planned three-piece, seven-story apartment development with 429 apartment units and underground parking for 258 vehicles returns for what is hoped to be the final review of the project in December.
December’s review will follow July’s unsuccessful bid for design review signoff amid community complaints that design for the Midtown: Public Square project looked too “South Lake Union” and calls for a more Central District-centered process. Despite the concerns, the project is 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.
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At one informal community conversation organized by Lake Union Partners in October, many attendees appeared interested in walls with murals highlighting local artists and adding to the character of the neighborhood. Africatown held a community painting day on part of the Midtown Center property in July to show the African heritage of the neighborhood.
There are three opportunities for public art as a part of the project. On the corner of Union and 23rd, developers want art next to the expected Bartell Drugs location. Those involved have also expressed interest in art on the extensive wall of the Union St. portal and a smaller piece in the 24th Ave portal.
A request for proposals has been issued. These ideas will be reviewed by a panel made up of community members, fellow artists, the architect, developer, and a representative from the James and Janie Washington Foundation.
Feedback from the criticism of the project this summer has been incorporated in the updated proposals. The project’s portals providing access from the street to the large, internal commercial and retail square area of the development have been altered slightly following suggestions from the East Design Review Board. Whereas all three portals planned to include sky bridges connecting the residential areas above, two were removed after the Board said they were too intrusive and wanted more light to get into the public square.
Patrick Foley of Lake Union Partners says that developers are currently working to integrate the Central Area Design Review Board, which was created earlier this year by removing a portion of the Central District from the East region’s purview in an effort to preserve and grow the historically Black culture of the neighborhood.
This has been a long and contentious process that has left developers frustrated at times.
“There isn’t an easy site left to develop,” Todd Bronk, a landscape architect from Berger Partnerships, said.
Midtown: Public Square will include 429 apartment units, approximately 125 of which will be affordable housing earmarked for those that fall into the category of 60% to 85% Area Median Income. The property will include underground parking for 258 vehicles.
There will be seven total retail spaces, one of which is expected to house Bartell Drugs, which has yet to sign a lease, as an anchor tenant in the largest piece of property at the corner of 23rd and Union. My Sweet Lil Cakes, an African-American-owned small business housed in a trailer in Capitol Hill, is in early talks to occupy the 1,480-square-foot space on the corner of 24th and Union, according toFoley of Lake Union Partners. This would be the sweet treat specialist’s first restaurant space after building its business through the food truck circuit.
The legendary Earl’s Cuts, meanwhile, is set to move across E Union to make way for redevelopment of the Midtown block. 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
The other spaces have yet to be accounted for, but developers want leases signed when construction begins next fall, according to Heather Hargesheimer of architecture firm Weinstein A+U.
Multiple spaces have the opportunity to be subdivided and include multiple retail tenants. For example, a 3,635-square-foot space facing the 12,500 square foot public square could be chopped into as many as seven different businesses. Additionally, on the corner of 23rd and Spring, there is an option to cut the planned 3,269 square foot space into two retail spaces, or it could remain as one.
The “portal” on Union, which allows for public entrance into the square, is expected to include a 3,045-square-foot space intended for restaurant use.
The other retail spaces include 2,811-square-feet that could be subdivided between tenants on the side of the public square and a narrow 1,290-square-foot room alongside the 23rd Ave portal.
Developers says there is strong community interested in ensuring as many businesses housed in the development as possible are owned by local, Black-owned businesses. Suggestions from neighbors during these two recent meetings included a pet store, sports bar, and spaces that are baby-friendly.
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 have separate design review processes with the Africatown project still in the earliy planning phases. This portion will double the amount of affordable housing units on the block to approximately 250. The two projects, which face separate design review processes, will share a private plaza gated from the public.
Developers plan to host one more community design conversation on November 17 before a design review board meeting on December 19.