More than 100 new affordable homes — and the start of what many hope will be a wave of equitable development across the Central District — are now full of life in the Liberty Bank Building. The development led by nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing and community development group Africatown celebrated with a ribbon cutting, party, and tours Saturday at 24th and Union.
“This neighborhood and this street means so much to me,” building contractor, neighborhood activist, and, now, Liberty Bank Building resident Ted Evans said. “It’s just surreal to be able to live here and raise my son and be part of this redevelopment and being part of this creation that we’re starting, you know, to bring it back home. This is where I started — I was born here.”
“There is power here,” Evans said.
Named to honor the region’s first Black-owned bank that once stood at the corner, the six-story, 115-unit affordable housing development is a collaboration between Capitol Hill Housing, Africatown, The Black Community Impact Alliance, and Byrd Barr Place. The color scheme of the building is intended to represent African American culture. Al Doggett Studios is curating art for the building that honors the Liberty Bank and reflects African American cultural heritage. The overall design of the building also plays off African-American inspired art with an overall asymmetrical design that uses varying colors and textures of fiber cement panels and siding, the project architects at Mithun say. The street level uses brick veneer and incorporate some salvaged bricks from Liberty Bank. Inside the main lobby, the door from the old Liberty Bank vault waits under plastic for its unveiling as an architectural centerpiece greeting entrants inside the building’s eastern entrance.
The $34 million project “required complex financing,” Capitol Hill Housing says, combining debt, tax credit equity and critical funding from the Office of Housing and the state’s Housing Trust Fund. Of the project’s $34 million budget, 36% comes from a $12.2 million City of Seattle Office of Housing loan, $10 million from tax credit equity through Heritage Bank, $8.1 million from a Bellwether Enterprise- First Mortgage permanent loan, $1 million from a state Housing Trust Fund loan, $1 million from Capitol Hill Housing equity, and a final $1.7 million raised by the Rise Together capital campaign, an effort to raise money for affordable housing across the Central District, Capitol Hill, and White Center.
“The project is the first project to embody the vision of Africatown ownership, presence, our culture, our heritage commerce in our businesses,” the group’s board president K. Wyking Garrett said Saturday, saying the new apartments are creating homes for “young men from our community that fell victim to mass incarceration and criminalization” but “who now can raise their children here just 10 minutes away from school.”
Describing the displacement of the Central District as “root shock,” Garrett said that Saturday’s ceremony market a “replanting.”
The Liberty Bank Building has 100 studio and one-bedroom apartments, plus 15 two bedroom units above the four commercial spaces. Apartments are available at 30 to 60% of the area median income, ranging in price from $448 to $1,013 per month. The partners helped to market openings to those who may have been displaced from the neighborhood, according to Capitol Hill Housing. The building will also be home to new Black-owned businesses with Seattle soul restaurant That Brown Girl Cooks part of the mix and the legendary Earl’s Cuts is also set to move across E Union to make way for redevelopment of the Midtown block.
Construction of the building was also a boost for minority contractors with more than 32% of the work — nearly $5 million worth — going to Minority, Women, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise-certified providers on the project including artists hired to work on the building. 17.9% were African American contractors providing $2.8 million to Black-owned businesses, according to Capitol Hill Housing.
The new homes are only a start. Garrett described the first minutes the phone line opened for prospective new residents to apply to be part of the Liberty Bank Building as thousands of callers swamped the line and ultimately crashed the system. Demand for Liberty Bank is “a very clear statement that our community wants to come home to their roots, they want to stay home in their community, they want social support mechanisms,” Garrett said.
The vision for the building began taking real shape in late 2016 with a memorandum of understanding between the partners led by CHH and Africatown for an inclusive, equitable development. A key component of that agreement will be ownership — the partners have the first right of refusal for ownership of the building in 15 years when the tax credit investment runs out. Garrett said future ownership is a critical opportunity for success at the project.
Saturday, Garrett also called for the Liberty Bank Building to be the first of many equitable developments. “Other Black communities across this country are watching what we’re doing,” he said. “So, this is not just about the Central District, but it’s about the future of Black communities outside of Africa, throughout this country, in this world.”
There is already a plan for a second in the blocks around 23rd and Union.
Midtown Center across the street from the Liberty Bank Building is now boarded up and ready for demolition where Lake Union Partners is financing a major new development that will create a set of seven-story apartment buildings with 429 apartment units, including 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). 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.
But on the south end of the block, Garrett said he hopes Africatown Plaza, planned as a development with around 120 to 135 affordable apartment units, “affordable to individuals with income as low as $26,880 – or 40% AMI” and about 3,000 square feet of retail, will be the next to rise in another collaboration with Capitol Hill Housing.
Saturday, Garrett said it was time to build “ten more” Liberty Bank Buildings. With Africatown Plaza, only eight more to go.
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