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With vision for ‘African American communities and spaces of the future,’ Africatown Plaza will be next to take shape in the Central District

The coming Africatown Plaza at Midtown

23rd and Union’s Africatown mural (Image: Africatown)

Community members met this week for an all-day design symposium at Washington Hall in the Central District to plan “African American communities and spaces of the future” around the Puget Sound.

The event follows a major development in the Central District with the opening of the Liberty Bank Building and comes as the early design process for Africatown Plaza at Midtown, another fully affordable development around the 23rd and Union core, is about to begin.

“Overall, working to make sure that we still have a heart and soul and a place of unity and community,” the Africatown Community Land Trust’s K. Wyking Garrett said Saturday, before giving a shout out to last weekend’s Umoja Fest Parade, a Central Area staple since the 1940s. He wants Africatown, however, to be more than just these major celebrations, but places “where we can experience Black culture, Black music, Black culinary genius from throughout the diaspora.”

The Liberty Bank Building

At 24th and Union, the Capitol Hill Housing-led Liberty Bank Building now provides more than 100 affordable homes after opening this spring. Africatown hopes the new building can be a springboard for more equitable development in a neighborhood that has seen increased gentrification and felt the effects of mass incarceration in recent years.

Next will come Africatown Plaza at Midtown on the southern end of the Midtown Center block. Being planned as 130 units of 100% affordable housing plus street-level retail and commercial space, the project will be built at 23rd and Spring, just down from the Liberty Bank Building on the south end of the site of the former Midtown Plaza. It will include around 130 affordable housing units, specifically for “those who have been displaced due to rising rents,” as well as several thousand square feet of retail space, as previously reported by CHS.

Midtown: Public Square

The mixed market rate and affordable Midtown: Public Square from Lake Union Partners, meanwhile, has completed the design process but demolition and construction has remained on hold through the summer. That new development 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 the Plaza concept.

Garrett envisions Africatown as a “cultural innovation district” filled with opportunity that can establish pathways from pre-K to adulthood, such as public-private partnerships and “connected physical, intellectual, and cultural assets.”

“Now we have a whole economy thriving off innovation and we’re disconnected from it and we’re actually being displaced by it,” he argued.

Garrett noted that the Liberty Bank Building will feature several Black-owned businesses, including That Brown Girl Cooks and Earl’s Cuts.

The Africatown Plaza development could also utilize a new city policy called “community preference,” as CHS reported earlier this month. CHH is likely to apply this practice, 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, in future projects like the plaza.

The development will eventually rise above land where a contentious standoff occurred in 2017 when the elderly Omari Tahir-Garrett, Wyking’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.

As the plans are being prepared to begin the design review process in coming months, Africatown on Saturday gave a sneak peek of the coming orange and white plaza that is set to feature a number of Black-owned businesses.

“Some of the things we’re looking at is ‘How can we create an iconic building that doesn’t look like your typical building you see in Seattle,’” said Laurie Wilson, principal architect at Sage Architectural Alliance, a firm working on the project.

A preliminary site plan for the development shows a range of apartment sizes from small studios to 2- and 3-bedroom spaces as well as at least two retail spots and a courtyard.

Safi Mafundikwa, a renowned designer whose son works at another architecture firm working on the design process for the plaza, gave a presentation at the event highlighting Afrocentric art that has often been overlooked and destroyed due to colonization. Mafundikwa had a successful career in New York before returning to his native Zimbabwe to start a graphic design school.

He described succinctly what he thinks people of African descent need to do to rebuild cultures harmed by displacement.

“Going back and reclaiming what’s yours,” Mafundikwa said.

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10 thoughts on “With vision for ‘African American communities and spaces of the future,’ Africatown Plaza will be next to take shape in the Central District

    • A couple of weeks ago, I contacted New Seasons via Facebook, because it looked like the project had been abandoned. One never sees any work going on there anymore. They said they “had to delay” the opening to sometime in 2020 and “were working with their community partners” to ensure hiring from the local community in the CD. I didn’t want to hear more corporate speak, so left it at that. They also said they would post an update about this on the door of the intended site, which so far they haven’t done.

      • I want that to take as long as it can. I do not like anything about New Seasons and it can stay away forever. I really wish it’d be delayed indefinitely.

    • I’m curious about the funding too- that piece has never been very clear ever since the Bangassers’ sale to Lake Union Partners / Capitol Hill Housing / Forterra / Africatown.

      I’d love to see this project roll out as well as the Liberty Bank Building.