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Hoping to follow the equitable development example of the Liberty Bank Building, Africatown Plaza begins to take shape

Community members discuss their priorities for the Africatown Plaza project (Image: CHS)

“Welcome to what we now call sacred ground,” said K. Wyking Garrett, standing in the still bare-bones corner space of the Liberty Bank Building where a new restaurant by That Brown Girl Cooks will land this summer. His comments marked the start of the first community design meeting for the planned Africatown Plaza affordable housing and commercial retail development on 23rd and Union.

Thursday’s meeting gave a first glimpse into what Africatown Community Land Trust, of which Garrett is president and CEO, plans for the site, and was a first step in the design process that is supposed the mirror and exceed the success of the affordable housing development Liberty Bank Building. The opening of the building this spring signaled the start of what is hoped to be a wave of equitable development across the Central District.

“We are here today to talk about the next project, the next building (…) across the street. Which will be similar, but we will improve on what we’ve done here,” Garrett said.

The project, like the Liberty Bank Building, is a partnership between Africatown and affordable housing developer Capitol Hill Housing. Africatown Plaza will be built at 23rd and Spring, just across from the Liberty Bank Building on the south end of the site of the former Midtown Plaza, and will include about 138 affordable housing units, specifically for “those who have been displaced due to rising rents”, as well as several thousand square feet of retail space.

Buildings on the Midtown Center lot are currently boarded up and ready for demolition. Lake Union Partners is financing a major new development on the north end of the land that will create a set of seven-story apartment buildings with 429 apartment units, including around 125 affordable housing units. The project will take up 80% of the Midtown block. The remaining 20%, about a half acre, was sold for $4,500,000 by Lake Union Partners to Africatown Community Land Trust and Capitol Hill Housing to develop Africatown Plaza.

The project is still in its early stage, explained Jon Hall, Principal architect at design firm GGLO, which will be leading the design process.

“This is our first exercise with the design team,” Hall said. “We will be coming back with what we’ve heard in a couple of months,” with a building concept, he said. “Then we’ll come back again at the end of the summer to have another presentation on the final design on the building. Then they’re [Africatown and Capitol Hill Housing] going to go out and find all the money.”

Garrett said Africatown is currently in the process of seeking public funding from the City of Seattle’s Office of Housing, among others, and that they are currently in the process of a capital campaign slash philanthropic drive to raise funds for projected funding gaps.

If all goes to plan, the hope is that groundbreaking could begin as early as the fall of next year.

The goal is for Africatown to become a “cultural placemaker” for the community, architects of GGLO explained to the many dozens who had shown up for the community design meeting, including a handful of residents of the Liberty Bank Building. “A building that is rooted in the community and has importance to the community,” explained Simba Mafundikwa of GGLO after someone asked to define the concept.

Community members, seated at round tables with plates of fried chicken and rice, received large cardboard printouts of the empty lot and were invited to use brightly-colored cards to map out their priorities for the development. Afterward, representatives of each table came up to explain why and where they’d put greenery, retail spaces, barbecue area, community rooms, artists studios, market stalls, play areas, childcare facilities, job training, and business incubators, among other facilities.

“We wanted to have a balance of apartments and greenery as well as little areas to support small businesses,” one ‘table representative’ said. “because it’s hard to get retail space in our communities.”

“We need some parking if we want people to come back to the community here,” another presenter said.

“I find that we do need some parking,” Cheryl Hawkins, who lives in the Liberty Bank Building and came to the community design meeting, told CHS. “I would like to see a community garden on the rooftop. Use some of that produce for the eateries here,” she added. “If you provide the food and other services, that will keep the dollar in the community a little longer.”

Hawkins grew up in the Central District, and her parents owned shares in Liberty Bank, she said. “I know a lot of the area, and it’s really different — a lot of things have changed. I welcome the change. We’re just going to go forward and do the damn thing.”

The sentiment was echoed by Garrett. “It’s encouraging to know that when the community really does gets involved, they can have an effect on their environment. We shouldn’t just be subject to other people’s plans, designs,” Garrett told CHS.

“Hopefully many others are inspired, not just in this community but around the city and around the country where neighborhoods are facing the same challenges and obstacles. We have to be the ones to create the future that we want to see.”

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20 thoughts on “Hoping to follow the equitable development example of the Liberty Bank Building, Africatown Plaza begins to take shape” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Blatant favoritism. Both Garrett and his father are openly racist. They say Africatown will help residents of that neighborhood who were being displaced. I bet you most of the tenants will be new to the neighborhood. The Garrett’s would happily welcome someone from Somalia but not a white person who was a 3rd generation resident of that neighborhood.

    • Yeah, everyone knows about Omari. If dealing with your parents makes you a thing, we’ve all got issues. If you were on the email list or went to any of the meetings, you’d know what types of tenants are moving in…

  2. Why are these Garrett’s still a part of this process? As I understand the father is an insane bigot and the son is a scammer who takes advantage of unsuspecting Seattle progressives.

    Didn’t the son basically run the Africatown nonprofit into the ground?

    Also, “sacred ground”?

    What exactly is meant by that?

    And let me be clear: there is nothing at all sacred about the corner of 23rd and Union to the African American community or any other community for that manner…to imply otherwise is frankly insane.

    Sure, the corner has a history with the African American community, a history that should be acknowledged rather than swept under the rug, but that is a far cry from “sacred.”

    This is just insane. No wonder this project has taken so long to get off the ground…these people are crazy.

    Oh, and if Africatown Plaza (and awful name for a stupid public space that will never be used) is going to be developed by community consensus…can you imagine the hideous public art and ugly design-as-a-form-of-compromise that will result?

    It will be a monstrosity that will live on the southeast corner of 23rd and Union for decades ugh…just like that awful sculpture outside of what was the liquor store.

    Now that’s a hideous sculpture I’d love to see destroyed in a “accident” of some sort.

    • Man, your language is just over the top. I assume that you too have not been to a single meeting or read a single email about the project. “Insane” x 2, “crazy”, “stupid public space that will never be used”, “hideous”….on and on.

      The neighbors were given meeting after meeting to help shape that. We gave feedback and input. We are looking forward to using the space. So if you choose not to, you become the only stupid one. And it’s hard to run a non-profit; I assume that is the only actual proof you have of this scammer son of his.

      And that sculpture, Fountain of Triumph, was commissioned by the Bangasser family in coordination with Black leaders at the time. It may need repair but the man who created it also did a piece at the Convention Center and two other spots in Seattle. Get over yourself. What an attitude.

  3. @Tara and @PD, what’s with all the vitriol? You don’t need to like the Garretts or agree with Africatown’s stated vision. Heck, you don’t even need to agree that affordable housing is a good idea. I simply don’t see how throwing around words like “racist,” “insane” and “hideous” help support your position. To that end, what exactly is your point?

    • What’s p-patch’s point? How much more clear does it have to be? Both the Sr and Jr Garretts are nothing but scammers. If you were here, do you remember when Mayor Schiller got smashed in the face with a megaphone? Yeah, that was the elder. They’re more of an embarrassment to Seattle’s Black CD community than anything else. It’s sad.

      By now Seattle’s “unsuspecting Progessives” have no excuse for falling for their self-dealing BS.

      • Not discounting local history or people’s perspectives, but I lived across the street from that property before the Garretts were there and would like to offer another perspective. Omari (Sr.) literally cleaned up the street–there was a lot of litter and he was out there daily picking it up. He also gave food to folks in need, and was perfectly pleasant to our entire family. My kids have fond memories of checking out his garden while he explained what was growing and offered samples. I’m not saying all their behaviors are socially acceptable, or even cool. Just saying that they are multi-faceted humans.

      • “I lived across the street from that property before the Garretts were there”
        Wait, so they gentrified the neighborhood? So they moved into the neighborhood then started harassing others- both newcomers and people like Ike who were there before him?
        “Omari (Sr.) literally cleaned up the street–”
        People make the same comment about gentrifiers- that they clean up the neighborhood.
        “I’m not saying all their behaviors are socially acceptable, or even cool. Just saying that they are multi-faceted humans.”
        I never see these observations being made when the dynamic of the abuse goes the other way.

      • Hi Lisa–the Garrett’s may have been in the neighborhood before taking up residence at 24th and Spring, I can only attest to what I observed. Which was a person being neighborly. Obviously some of the stuff that’s been video filed for posterity is horrible.

      • You keep lumping Wyking in with his dad. Why is he a scammer? Because he had a hard time making a nonprofit successful? That’s half of Seattle…

    • Ppatch, there’s video of Garrett senior shouting at a Jewish person to “go back to Germany and let them nazi’s get you!” What would you call that if not racism?

      He was also arrested, again, for trespassing on the property just a few weeks ago. Brought in a big RV and everything. Tied up several police officers for most of a day with his nonsense, again.

      • Yes, I remember that. I also remember the assault on mayor Schell. My point wasn’t to say that either Garretts are without fault. I simply think that the original comments had nothing to do with the merits of the project (housing and community services) and instead focused on character assassination.

      • He’s racist and probably has a mental illness. And at the time, many people who were on-site mentioned that he was baited about Blackness and exploded, as is his standard reaction. Only the second part made it on camera. Doesn’t make it right but not cool.

  4. Umm, Garret sr. is absolutely a racist, or if he isn’t, he at least says racists things. I’ve heard him literally on the record, (at public meetings!) say things like “black people are the master race”. Like as if in the CD there is some racial pecking order.

    Sure, maybe in some ways as a multi-faceted person he can show some signs of empathy and integrity to others but until I see otherwise, he is just a hateful, spiteful person.

    — In regards to Garret jr. One would hope the apple falls far from the tree

  5. If that property is sacred ground for anyone it would be the native americans who inhabited the area long before whites or blacks lived here.

  6. Parking? Please don’t waste space on car-centric thinking. Our neighborhood is served well by Metro, ride-share, and bike-share. I just think we need to move away from sacrificing limited space to private vehicles.