CHS Pics | The walls come down at Midtown Center

Midtown Center, perhaps the most visible and yet somehow most stubbornly unchanged symbol of the strains of gentrification in the Central District, is finally being demolished.

Crews began work this week to tear down the old commercial strip following a slow final year for the old buildings as the final commercial tenants moved out and chain-link fencing went up.

 

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Construction will follow soon after — though nothing with the changes at 23rd and Union has come as quickly as expected. Developer Lake Union Partners is creating the new Midtown: Public Square on the land, a three-piece, seven-story mixed-use apartment development with more than 400 market-rate and affordable apartment units, a quasi-public central plaza, and a huge underground parking garage. 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.

A long public design process wrapped up last year with an “art plan” as the board’s final touch to try to direct the project toward a design more reflective of the neighborhood’s history and culture. “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 developers wrote of the effort. It will manifest itself in large art panels and installations around the block-wide development. 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 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).

On the south end of the Midtown block, meanwhile, Africatown is working with Capitol Hill Housing on a plan for a fully affordable new Africatown Plaza development that seeks to emulate the success of the nearby Liberty Bank Building in achieving inclusive development with the help of new City of Seattle policies including community preference in which nonprofit developers offer a portion of their affordable units to communities with ties to the neighborhood, particularly those with a high risk of displacement. The Plaza apartments development will eventually rise above land where a contentious standoff occurred in 2017when the elderly Omari Tahir-Garrett, Africatown CEO Wyking Garrett’s father, refused to move out of the house he had been living in on the property, sparking days of protests with activists including City Council member Kshama Sawant.

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.

An artist rendering of the plan for Midtown: Public Square (Image: Lake Union Partners)

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 steadily decreased. Police rolled through the lot to bust up drinking, drug use, and gambling. There were shootings and ongoing incidents of gun violence even as use of the center decreased. This summer, with fences up, police were called to hot spots nearby including 21st and Union and 29th and Alder near Powell Barnett Park.

The shopping center’s end days also exposed the missing safety net in Seattle for small businesses as remaining tenants struggled to find new locations when faced with the coming demolition and redevelopment. Some, with hope, will continue to thrive. Earl’s Cuts, with a boost from a fundraising campaign, moved on and is making its new home in the Liberty Bank Building at 24th and Union. And a community service valued by many in the neighborhood will continue as the post office found a new nearby home.

This week’s demolition will finally set most of these plans and changes fully into motion. It also brings an answer for what had become one of the most asked questions for CHS in recent months. When will Midtown Center be demolished? The answer is now. As for the other question we hear the most about 23rd and Union, that answer is still murky. The 18,000-square-foot New Seasons grocery store that will anchor Lake Union Partners’ East Union building on the intersection’s northwest corner still does not have an official opening date.

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43 thoughts on “CHS Pics | The walls come down at Midtown Center

  1. This sucks bad.

    I hate Bartell’s and New Seasons with a passion. So do all my neighbors. We hope to protest and boycott for a long time so they leave and a better business at least comes in.

    #KeepTheCDBlack

      • Jon, might want to check the sarcasm switch setting on your Detecto-meter™. I think it’s switched off. Or maybe the TrollAlert setting.

    • Seriously, I’ve heard the complaints about New Seasons (although I don’t see how it’s any different from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods in terms of the union issues and I don’t see folks protesting them), but please explain why the hate for Bartell Drugs. Sure they’re a chain, but at least they’re a local chain, so I prefer to go there over Walgreens or Rite Aid.

  2. Replacing a crime hub with a grocery store? Seattle makes me sick. Next thing you know they’ll be remodeling the parks, fixing the streets, causing property values to go up which means higher property taxes and more revenue for the local schools. Gentrification is the worst.

    • Because it was a crime riddled nightmare?

      But really, because the owners sold the property and the new owners wanted to develop it. This isn’t rocket science.

  3. The CD staples, at least the ones that have been there for the last decade-ish, were able to find homes next door. Earls is now across the street in the Liberty Bank building and the Post Office is moving west one block into the Central building. The development will add retail space centered around a “town square” concept and provide more small business opportunities than what was there originally. Additionally, retail leasing will also be prioritized to African American owned businesses. You can read more about it here:

    https://www.23andunion.com/

    The southern side of the old Midtown property, which has struggled with gang and drug related crime for decades, is now owned by the Africatown Community Land Trust and they’re looking to develop it similar to the Liberty Bank building; mixed use with 100% of the units being affordable housing.

    The TL;DR: CD staples were able to move next door, more retail space is being added, African American businesses are getting lease prioritization, 250ish affordable housing units are being added, and a former gang/drug corner now getting fully activated. Basically the antithesis of a town going to hell.

    • The Post Office hasn’t moved yet. They mentioned it going in Electric Lady spot or way over in Madrona next to Madrona Arms. It’s not official.

      And you’re missing the point. The Midtown center and that convenient store was a great gathering place. I hope new AfricaTown development takes off and can recreate some of it but Midtown Center type places are cultural hubs. We need way more of these and not less. New Seasons and Bartells will bring all the white gentrifiers around. And this will deter black people. Speaking AS a black person and long time CD resident that got pushed to south of Jackson.

      • Danny, I 100% agree that central hubs are key to keeping up a thriving community and the new project is striving to provide us this. We’ll have a 16,000 sf plaza surrounded by art honoring our neighborhoods rich history/small business retail that will give all of us in the neighborhood a place to gather, socialize, and shop.

  4. You calling it a “former drug corner” is very offensive. Please educate yourself on the CD history. This is a white person view of the corner. It’s not how black people view it. We grew up here and it was a gathering spot at Sammy’s and Philly’s Best.

    Be careful in how you word things. You speak like a gentrifier type on Reddit. This is a real community. Not a manufactured one. We don’t want New Seasons here.

    • These 2 views – former home of Philly’s Best, former drug corner – aren’t mutually exclusive. The intersection can be (and was…) both, and many or most people who hold one view probably hold both. It’s not offensive to discuss these views.

    • It has nothing to do with media, and everything to do with using your own eyes and intellect.

      Drug deals could be seen going down day and night, in plain sight, among other illegal and dangerous activity.

      I’m not sure what corner you’ve been watching, but the people who actually live here have witnessed enough to know “drug corner” is an apt descriptor. Take your ignorant hyperbole elsewhere.

      • Ok, instead of drug dealing corner, how about we call it the “where I had to explain to my children why one man is threatening another with a baseball bat in the middle of the day corner?” I’m sorry, but imo this corner, as it was, was doing no favors for any community in this neighborhood, black or white. I know any change is hard for many, but it doesn’t always have to be viewed as negative.

      • And so according to confused, we should just put up some bullet proof fencing and let the gangs have their corner (which in all rights in an expanding and denser city is a very valuable piece of real estate) where they could just Battle Royale it out because of some historical connections to the African-American community?

      • So the corner needed to be a whiter person-approved grocery store like New Seasons in order to be fixed and now crime will never happen again somewhere else? It’s all gone forever?

        How dense are you guys? Seriously.

        The point the black residents of the CD are making is that they were RED LINED and now being forced out of an area they had a legacy/community built from while being an oppressed race. All so you could complain about the crime happening there (because of social inequality that level of crime happens).

        It’s really not that hard. Just say “I’m okay with gentrification and pushing black folks out as long as my street corner has trash from Bartell’s instead of mentally ill and sick people and poor people having to sell drugs to make a living even though weed is legal and they are still in jail”

      • @Confused

        First, to whatever the hell your last paragraph was: I’ve never seen someone get so twisted trying to explain away gang activity/illicit drug sales. Gang members actively harming our community are not just a bunch of mentally ill victims of society trying to make some hard earned $$ by selling drugs. That along with what else you wrote is some straight up BS.

        Now onto the rest of it. Yes, activating this corner won’t solve the systemic issues that lead to drug crime/gang violence. However, activating *this* corner will reduce crime at *this* corner. It will also provide more retail space for hyper local small businesses and the plaza will honor the block’s roots as a gathering place for those that live in the neighborhood. Many folks, myself included, view this as a win-win for *this* corner.

        Redlining was disgraceful and I don’t think you’ll find anyone who doesn’t recognize how unjust it was or how long lasting it’s impacts have been; the ramifications are still being felt today even though readlining ended over 50 years ago. And yes, as our neighborhood has gentrified over the last few decades we’ve seen neighbors become economically displaced and a sense of a vanishing culture for those who were redlined into the area. However, adding several hundred affordable units to the neighborhood like what this project and the Liberty Bank project are doing is part of the solution not a part of the problem. Ensuring that African American businesses get retail space prioritization like what this project and the Liberty Bank project are doing is part of the solution not a part of the problem. Ensuring that the neighborhood’s heritage is being recognized and honored like what this project and the Liberty Bank project are doing is part of the solution not a part of the problem. Activating a “drug corner” is apart of the solution not a part of the problem.

  5. Sorry but you can’t say “this store is a drug corner” and act like stores are the problem and not a systemic one.

    Putting in little White Gentrifying Whole Foods and New Seasons stores thinking that will clean up neighborhoods is a basic capitalism non-solution to a problem. It doesn’t work. You’re just driving poor people out of town and making a new “drug corner” somewhere else.

    It’s so basic and simple that I’m astonished that some people don’t get it still.

    Thanks for ruining the CD with these awful chain places.

  6. https://www.newseasonsmarket.com/laborrelations/

    New Seasons is not the evil bad guy here. Please. They have issues, and they are unfortunately NOT the Red Apple. So, again – if you want something you gotta make it happen or stop whining. And yes I lived, still work, and still hang out with family in the CD, and I am Black. Things change, the City changes all the time, and the only constant thing in all cities is change. The historic race and class issues are real and the damage has been extensive.

  7. Lots of obvious trolling and fake accounts being used here… lots of people falling for it though and some of the posts are pretty hilarious… well played whoever is doing that.

    Real Talk – The whole neighborhood will be better off with the schithole midtown center torn down and replaced with something new. All of the current residents who are able/choose to stay in the CD will benefit… regardless of whether they are black or white or any other race/color.

    That neighborhood has been gentrified many times over, and black people are the latest to be affected. While I feel bad in a general sense, I’m really not sorry as that is just how the world works. This is Seattle so you’ll see more people protesting (and complaining) about it, but it won’t change anything. Time marches on…

    • Meh, it’s fun getting on here and shaking our fists at the internet. I mean what else are we supposed to do, meet up at a bar and discuss all this over drinks like reasonable adults?

  8. Conflating drug use with the entire neighborhood is what’s troubling about many of these comments. I lived in the CD for 15 years. You can quote statistics all you want, but there are real people who have called this neighborhood home for years, who have held on despite crime and poor civic investment who are now being priced out. I hope that black-owned businesses thrive at the Liberty Bank building and the new Midtown center.

    • 🙋‍♂️ I’m a real person who has called the CD home for years too. Like most people commenting on here, I love so much about our neighborhood. That’s why I’m excited to see this particular corner, which has been a hotspot for gang/drug violence, become fully activated.

      If we go back a decade, prior to all of this transformation, the SW corner of 23rd/Union was a vacant lot, the NW corner was mostly a gas station w/ Cappy’s tucked in the back, the NE corner sat vacant for a couple years after Philly’s Best closed down, the old Liberty/Key Bank lot between 23rd/24th was vacant, and then of course we had the Midtown center.

      To me, the improved community gathering spaces, additional commercial space, and more affordable housing stemming from the all this new development has been and will continue to be great for our neighborhood.

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