The design review board has given its final blessings to the plans for Midtown: Public Square, a three-piece, seven-story apartment development with more than 400 apartment units, a quasi-public central plaza, and underground parking for around 250 vehicles set to rise above the land home to the old shopping center.
In December, the project was kicked back in the design process over concerns about the large installations of art panels hoped to help the project better reflect the culture and the history of the Central District.
Wednesday, the board said it was satisfied with a more detailed plan from the architects at Weinstein A+U and developer Lake Union Partners for the specific areas of art in the project and also approved of elements sought to improve the development’s relationship with 23rd Ave and the surrounding streets like improved glazing for the project’s central retail component.
When Midtown: Public Square is complete, it will create hundreds of new apartments — and thousands of square feet of commercial retail space anchored by a new drugstore. Regional pharmacy chain Bartell Drugs is planned to occupy the large retail space on the corner of 23rd and Union with a mix of smaller, more neighborhood focused retail and restaurant spaces surrounding the inner square.
Key to this week’s signoff is the “art plan” for the project. “This art plan is rooted in the values of reverence and discovery and takes into account responses from community members around their desires for how the project functions as a community space that is friendly, representative of an aesthetic that boldly recognizes the area’s rich heritage, and welcomes multi-generational interaction,” the architects and developer write:
The public art will present opportunities for the building to further reflect the heritage and culture of the Central Area, and for local artists to collaborate with the community, the architects, and the developer on public installations, which will have an immediate and lasting impact on the built environment of this neighborhood. A broad selection of diverse artistic styles, perspectives, and mediums will be represented in the selected artworks.
Developers also set out a process for selecting the art, Lake Union Partners says a panel of jurors will be comprised of community members and representatives “from Central Area arts and cultural organizations.”
The development 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). 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 review processes and construction of the Africatown component is years away from starting.
Progress at the site will also mean the loss of neighborhood businesses and services. CHS reported on some of the exiting Midtown tenants who have struggled to find new locations and the removal of the neighborhood’s U.S. Post Office.
Redevelopment of 23rd and Union has been a long, winding path. In 2017, development on the block went through preliminary design review under a developer previous to current owner Lake Union Partners. A previous deal for the block got off to a rough start as the design review board rejected the first design plan for the Midtown Center block for a project from national developers Lennar Multifamily Communities and Regency Centers. The rejection was soon a moot point when the deal for the big developers to purchase the property fell off the table. In 2017,Lake Union Partners stepped in with $23.25M to pull together a project on this core block of the Central District.
Lake Union is already the developer on three buildings around the intersection with a combined 275 apartment units and some 25,000 square feet of commercial and restaurant space. Included in that is the 18,000-square-foot New Seasons grocery store that will anchor the East Union building on the intersection’s northwest corner.
The project has been the subject of several reviews and community meetings including calls for a newly formed Central Area Design Review Board to become more involved in the project to help make sure that the black community was more fully represented in the process. The community efforts resulted in elements like what is hoped to be a better, more accessible designs for the development’s entrance “portals” and the integration of community art throughout the project.
As the plan for Midtown: Public Square has finally taken shape, another key Central District development project is ready to open for residents and new businesses. The Liberty Bank Building will create affordable housing in 100 studio and one-bedroom apartments, plus 15 two bedroom units above four commercial spaces at 24th and Union. Named for the region’s first Black-owned bank that once stood at the corner, the project will also be home to a new location for Earl’s Cuts and Seattle soul food restaurant That Brown Girl Cooks. The building from nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing will celebrate its grand opening with a ribbon cutting on March 23rd.
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