Post navigation

Prev: (10/12/20) | Next: (10/12/20)

Amid progress on community ownership of Central District properties, plans for Africatown Plaza taking shape

The early preferred massing concept for Africatown Plaza (Image: GGLO)

Africatown Plaza is coming to 23rd and Spring (Image: GGLO)

Africatown Community Land Trust is working to finalize plans for its 7-story project that includes about 130 affordable housing units on 23rd and Spring in the Central District with construction estimated to begin late next year.

While the broad project timeline hasn’t been affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, what has been altered is the developers ability to procure retail tenants, said real estate project manager for Africatown Muammar Hermanstyne.

“Retail is dying, no one is coming out,” Hermanstyne told CHS, adding that this has made it difficult to sign on specific Black-owned retail for the shop.

Being planned as more than 100 units of 100% affordable housing plus street-level retail and commercial space, the project will be built at 23rd and Spring on the south end of the site of the former Midtown Center. 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. The collaboration between Africatown Community Land Trust and Community Roots Housing is hoped to build on the success of the nearby Liberty Bank Building which opened two years ago in what many hope will be a model for equitable development in the Central District and Seattle.

The Africatown Plaza project is joined by a small ripple of progress in putting some key Central District properties into community ownership as efforts like the King County Equity Now coalition have increased the call for ownership and development opportunities for the Black community.

Community property progress
Later this month the city will likely move to transfer several important Central District properties to community ownership. After seven years, Fire Station 6 at 23rd and Yesler would go to Africatown, which will look to turn the decommissioned space into the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation.

The center, named after a local Black pioneer, will look to serve as a technological hub of a community that hasn’t had as much access to the resources needed to be successful. Community organizer TraeAnna Holiday noted, for example, that she hopes children will be able to use 3D printers there they wouldn’t have had otherwise which could make them better candidates for local jobs.


$5/MONTH? SUBSCRIBE AND SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS: Support local journalism dedicated to your neighborhood. SUBSCRIBE HERE. Join to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment.


“There’s been no pipeline specifically drawn for Seattle city students to become employees of these tech jobs and we’re finding that a lot of our Black and Brown students are falling behind the cracks because they don’t have a direct pathway,” said Holiday, who added that Africatown is holding community meetings on the future of the space, including one on Oct. 14.

This idea is not new, however, as the city designated the property as one for a possible cultural center four years ago, but the protest movement over the summer with some of its focus on hyper-local issues like this one pressured the city to finally move on the topic.

“People are realizing how powerful collective power really is,” Holiday said. “I think it definitely plays a huge part in shifting the approach that some of those with the power and authority are taking now.”

Since Dian Ferguson took over as executive director of the Central Area Senior Center, she has spent years in meetings trying to get ownership as deferred maintenance has piled up and current leadership has been unable to apply for funding without ownership. The 30th Ave property would be given to the organization for free under legislation Mayor Jenny Durkan transmitted in September.

The 12,000 square foot Central has been stewarding the property on a month-to-month lease since the city took over ownership in 1975 and has paid little rent — Ferguson said it was about $265 per month — instead paying the city through its services. But the city has done little to pay for upkeep of the building that Ferguson said has set back the center about $120,000 a year since 2014.

The council passed a resolution in 2018 saying the property should be released, but Durkan had been looking at the site as ripe ground for a possible low-income housing development. The city’s Office of Housing poured cold water on that plan, however, because of the slope the property sits on, which would’ve cost millions of dollars to deal with. Parks and Recreation also floated turning the site into an off leash dog area, Ferguson said.

“It should’ve been concluded a long time ago,” Ferguson said. “It should’ve been two years ago as far as I’m concerned.”

Meanwhile, major maintenance projects are on the horizon, as well, with Ferguson saying they need to redo the parking lot to the tune of $200,000 and retrofitting the property for earthquakes which will cost between $245,000 and $265,000. And the Central’s deck needs to be redone in the next two years, she said.

Ferguson also has a vision for expanding the footprint of the property, which could mean building upwards so the center could serve more people.

“It feels like a victory and an achievement, but now you rest for a moment and you get ready to tackle the hard part,” she said.

The council approved last month the transfer of another old fire station on 18th and Columbia to Byrd Barr Place.

These two property transfers are on the council’s Oct. 19 agenda.

“They’ve been putting us through the wringer on these properties, Byrd Barr Place, Fire Station 6, Central Area Senior Center, all of them, they’ve been kind of yo-yoing the community,” Holiday said. “That is really what the Black community has experienced for decades.”

Africatown Plaza
It is hoped the Africatown Plaza development will follow a more straightforward path. Holiday said the project could have rotating businesses, like barber shops and cafes in its planned 2,500 square feet of retail space.

“Places that become actual hubs of the community where they go ‘That’s where I go for my hair products, that’s where I go for my Oxtail soup, that’s where I go for my kente dresses,’” Holiday said.

The development, which spans Spring St between 23rd and 24th Ave will not include parking and the apartments will be occupied by Black families and other families of color between 30% and 60% area median income.

Before construction can begin, Africatown still must decide its final design for the project, pass through the city’s design review process, and go through another round of financing to fund the project. Hermanstyne said they are still “in the throes of the guts of the development.”

For example, Africatown is currently trying to figure out how to incorporate art into the project, which will also include  2,000 square feet of office space for the organization. Hermanstyne noted that in trying to restore the displaced Black community in the Central District, the building will look to utilize the textures and patterns of Afrocentric design.

This concept will likely set it apart from the project on the northside of the block, where construction is well underway on the Midtown Square mixed-use project being developed by Lake Union Partners. After facing design approval obstacles, that development, however, will include large art panel installations designed by eight local artists with the hopes of better reflecting the history and culture of the neighborhood. These artists are working on finalizing their design plans, according to the developer.

And the James Washington Fountain, which is being restored by Pratt Fine Arts, will likely be finished next fall and placed at the corner of 24th and Union. Lake Union Partners says.

The project will fill the former Midtown Center site with three seven-story mixed-use apartment buildings that will total 432 units, with most at market rate and 30% set aside for affordable housing. It will also include a huge underground parking garage with 227 stalls and a central plaza, with Bartell Drugs planned to occupy the retail space on the corner of 23rd and Union — a plan that appears to still be on the table after the Seattle-based company announced it will be acquired by national chain Rite Aid.

Other retail included in the project includes the Black-woman owned So Beautiful Salon, which signed a lease this summer and will be located along 23rd Ave, and Raised Doughnuts at the corner of 24th and Union, next to the fountain. The shop is currently located across the street from the development along 23rd.

Lake Union Partners says that a total of $14.5 million in construction costs have been contracted to woman- and BIPOC-owned businesses, including $2.7 million to Black-owned subcontractors, as of September.

The expected opening for that project is slated for December 2021.


$5/MONTH? SUBSCRIBE AND SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS: Support local journalism dedicated to your neighborhood. SUBSCRIBE HERE. Join to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment.


Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
6 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JNE
JNE
1 month ago

“It will include around 130 affordable housing units, specifically for “those who have been displaced due to rising rents”
Am I supposed to believe that? They only seem interested in outreaching one demographic.
“the development, which spans Spring St between 23rd and 24th Ave will not include parking and the apartments will be occupied by Black families and other families of color between 30% and 60% area median income.”
Seriously?

John Sc
John Sc
1 month ago

1) I’m not getting how this and the Liberty Bank building are “equitable” considering no other group who resides/resided in the CD is getting anything.
2) A quick internet search indicates real estate project manager for Africatown Muammar Hermanstyne is located in Massachussetts. Is this correct?

Jamal Bryant
Jamal Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  John Sc

One organization applied for the funding. Why should every organization benefit?
Also, to your second point: in the COVID era where everyone’s working from home – who cares?

Neighbor
Neighbor
1 month ago

Uh, what happened to the promised large courtyard mirroring the one the building next door has which was a big part of their pitch to the neighborhood from very early on?

You can still see the partial circle on Lake Union Partners side that was supposed to be completed by the Africatown project.

John Whittier Treat
John Whittier Treat
1 month ago
Reply to  Neighbor

I have the same question. Bait and switch?

John Whittier Treat
John Whittier Treat
1 month ago

How is this REMOTELY legal?

“The development, which spans Spring St between 23rd and 24th Ave will not include parking and the apartments will be occupied by Black families and other families of color between 30% and 60% area median income.”