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As Seattle struggles to meet larger Black Lives Matter goals, city will transfer two more Central District properties to community ownership

Fire Station 6

Protesters outside Seattle’s emergency operations center this summer

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to transfer two long-sought Central District properties back to the community after years of hope and promises including pledges from Mayor Jenny Durkan this summer as Black Lives Matter movement demonstrations grew in Seattle.

The transfer of the Central Area Senior Center on 30th Ave and Fire Station 6 at 23rd and Yesler comes after an increased push in recent months connected to protests and demands from community groups and activists.

Africatown Community Land Trust, which has been pushing the city to transfer the property for seven years, will now have a 99-year lease on the fire station property. The organization will look to turn the decommissioned space into the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation, which advocates hope will serve as a technological hub of a community that hasn’t had as much access to the resources needed to be successful.

“This community asset will help close the gap we are already seeing in Seattle where there is an astronomical economic growth that is not resulting in all communities benefiting,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who sponsored the legislation for both transfers.

Community organizer TraeAnna Holiday told CHS last month, 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.

The city designated this site as ripe for a possible cultural center four years ago, but the process was fast-forwarded after the transfer was included as one of the hyper-local demands from recent protests.

Africatown held a press conference with hundreds in attendance in front of the fire station in June, calling on the city to finally make the transfer.


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The transfers come as other pledges to the city’s Black community and activists calling for increased equity and social spending in the city have been slower to take shape and the 2021 budget process appears likely to also fall short of many goals set during the summer’s protests and activism.

Durkan praised the council’s move Monday, saying in a statement, “We must continue to act with urgency to increase opportunities for our communities that have been historically held back, and working with community in recent years, we have been able to transfer  properties in the Central District and [Rainier] Beach back to community.”

The concept for the E Yesler at 23rd fire station development could include room for business, enterprise and education support, technology facilities and maker space, as well as about 20 housing units focused on young adults.

The center will be named for William Grose, a pioneer of Seattle recorded as the city’s wealthiest Black resident whose property holdings near the current-day E Madison became the center of the city’s African American neighborhoods. CHS wrote about Grose here in our report on the history of the racial covenants on Capitol Hill:

In 1882, William Grose, an early black pioneer in Seattle, bought 12 acres of land in Madison Valley from Henry Yesler. At the time, the plot was a thickly wooded area far from the hub of activity along the city’s waterfront. But when the Madison Street Cable Car began service in 1889, it made the area accessible to other citizens and more black families moved in.

The Central, meanwhile, has been stewarding the senior center property on a month-to-month lease since the city took over ownership in 1975 and has paid little rent — executive director Dian 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 told CHS in October. “It should’ve been two years ago as far as I’m concerned.”

Community leaders and others have pointed to the summer’s protests as playing a major role in getting these transfers completed after years of waiting.

“Ultimately, I believe that we would not have had this legislation in front of us had it not been for the tremendous impact of the justice for George Floyd protests,” Councilmember Kshama Sawant said Monday. She added later: “They have struggled through years of City Hall inertia and opposition to make this happen.”

The legislation the council passed Monday transfers the property, a longtime anchor of the neighborhood’s Black community, at no cost to the senior center.

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

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.


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K P
K P
20 days ago

Pandering.

Nope
Nope
20 days ago

Why not just put the facilities in Garfield HS which is a short walk down the hill. That way it benefits a wider range of students. Or is that too simple ?

Tara J
Tara J
20 days ago

Africatown isn’t inclusive. Am I missing something or is this one organization which has no oversite or scrutiny despite some major red flags given a lot with no real checks and balances? Do other organizations which serve only once racial group get gifted this much too but we don’t hear about it? I would like to see transparency both when it comes to this organization, the city’s dealings with this organization, and the who and how money/property/services are distributed in this city. I feel we are being ripped off. I am not gay but have never felt treated with hostility by gay organizations or activists. Some of the racial justice organizations, including this one, seem really hostile to outsiders and encourage racial animosity. I’ve looked into their history quite a bit and they seem really shady. They also seem to fit the bill of racial nationalists. We would be outraged if the city gave money and property to white nationalists but are willing to go along with this. For how long?

Akmon
Akmon
18 days ago
Reply to  Tara J

We ARE being ripped off…

James
James
18 days ago
Reply to  Tara J

Found the racist…

Africatown has seriously done nothing but GOOD in this community. I attend a lot of their meetings and this post is just downright clueless.