The Capitol Hill venue born as Fred Wildlife Refuge has announced it will be closing in March
“We’re basically priced out. We had no way of making it make financial sense,” said owner Chris Pink in the announcement made Friday.
The two-story event space is a center for art, performance, and LGBTQ+ happenings and has held a unique space among the bars and clubs on the Hill, mainly because it was neither of those.
Kaleb Dameron, Fred’s event coordinator and the founder and creative director of Beauty Boiz said it was that power as an other space that mattered most.
“Something I really loved is that no matter where your home bar loyalties lie, whether it was queer/bar or R Place or Kremwerk or Julia’s or any of that, everyone could put everything aside when they came to Fred,” Dameron told CHS. “And everyone was community when they were at Fred. We don’t have a lot of those places. Naturally there’s that competitive spirit at a lot of the other LGBTQ establishments on the hill, and it’s nice to have a Switzerland in the middle of all that.”
The Fred community knew a change was in the works when Canadian real estate investment and management company Low Tide Properties bought the block last April in a $21 million deal, according to Pink. Fred and other neighboring businesses “had a panic attack when [the sale] happened. Everybody had these horrible expectations, but [Low Tide] came in and were the most generous, sweet, non-pushy. I can’t even tell you how great they have been through the entire process,” said Pink.
So far, changes have been minimal after the sale. The company is planning some construction but, according to city permits, it’s focused on improving the Fred building with a new roof.
The original founder Fred Milkie built the space in the mid 1960s. Milkie was the official photographer for the Seattle World’s Fair, and a catalog photographer for Nordstrom and Macy’s. Most of his catalog work was shot in the building. After Milkie’s passing, his sons operated the studios for several years before leasing it to Pink, founder of The Can Can Culinary Cabaret and his partner Fae Phalen Pink. Fred debuted in November of 2013. Though the lease was pre-negotiated for 15 years, Pink signed an extension every five years through Market Associates.
Coming up on the last extension, and coinciding with the Low Tide purchase from the Milkie family, Market Associates took advantage of a loophole in the contract to raise the rent twice the market value of commensurate spaces on the Hill, Pink said. Though Fred negotiated a lower rent, it was still an unsustainable amount. The raised rent and uncertainty of what would happen after the completion of their 15 year lease put Fred on shaky ground. “If there was a possibility of longevity, we would have kept going,” Pink noted.
Although in the middle of rebranding Fred Wildlife Refuge to simply Fred, a remodeling project on the horizon, and a robust calendar of events through the rest of the year, calling it off sooner rather than later was the best financial option for Pink. “It’s sad for the Hill,” he said. “I’m bummed. Fred represents some of the last vestiges of the Capitol Hill arts scene, it just feels like, especially on the low Hill, there’s nothing in that realm. I feel like it’s one of the last spots that’s community-oriented as opposed to it just being a club or a 10th and Pike douche party.”
Fred is currently slated to close March 8th. It is slated to host a “Prom Night” themed silent auction to benefit the Capitol Hill Cooperative Preschool the night of March 7th.
You can learn more at fredwildliferefuge.com.
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