23rd & Union / Midtown Center Updates

The agreement to purchase and develop the 23rd and E. Union (Midtown Center) site described in this newsletter and other sources in December is not currently going forward. 

The Early Design Guidance meeting attracted a standing-room only crowd to hear a presentation for a project comprising a seven-story building to accommodate around 440 housing units and retail space including a 30,000 square-foot grocery store at the corner of 23rd and Union and a large pharmacy fronting Union just east of the grocery store.  A design including space for up to nine additional small scale retail spaces was presented.

Prior to the EDG, meeting the developer indicated in public meetings that they planned to participate in more than the usual two Design Review Board meetings because of the importance of hearing from and responding to the public.

The initial proposal had included the possibility that a portion of the site could be acquired by the community-based organization Africatown, but in mid-February, the developers Lennar Multifamily Communities and Regency Centers announced that the agreement between them and the property owners, the Bangasser family trust, had come to an end without a purchase having been finalized.

On March 3, at a community meeting called by Africatown, their spokesperson, Wyking Garrett told the public that he saw continued opportunity for Africatown to share in the ownership of the development of the site with a different purchaser.  At that meeting, a representative of Forterra, a non-profit corporation with decades of experience in complex land transactions, indicated that Forterra was prepared to “fully back” the effort spearheaded by Africatown to participate as an owner in the development of the site.

On that same day, March 3rd, on its website, Forterra further explained its position:

In summary, the joint statement is that “Forterra and Africatown Community Land Trust are working together to secure a continued place for the historically-black community in Seattle’s Central District.  We hope to team in the redevelopment of Midtown Center, … and have made a proactive, pragmatic offer to purchase the property after another buyer’s offer was withdrawn.”

The statement goes on to say that redevelopment of the site “one of the last large blocks available for redevelopment in the CD, … if done right can help stem the displacement of current residents and ensure the continuity of the neighborhood’s rich African American history.”

However, The Capitol Hill Blog reported on an ongoing dispute between Africatown’s Black Dot and Bangasser’s Midtown Center Partnership as a result of the partnership’s attempts to block Black Dots continued access to their work space there. More details can be found at

In the meantime, the eviction of UMOJA Peace Center from in the Midtown Center block was completed despite protestors on Wednesday, March 15th, the same day that Wyking Garrett reportedly stated that the locks on the Black Dot space have been changed by the property owners.   More on this can also be found at


Historic African American Arts and Culture District Takes Off


Neighbors at the SPCC January quarterly meeting heard an important message about Seattle’s newly officially-designated Historic African American Arts and Culture District.

Vivian Phillips, (who is co-chair of the HAACD, along with Steve Sneed) described the three main goals of the District:

  1. Preserving an African-American legacy;
  2. sustaining and strengthening the physical identity and sense of place for cultural relevancy; and
  3. establishing continued support of artistic creation, economic vibrancy, livability, affordability, desirability, and artistic vitality.

The Central Area is changing rapidly, from 12th Avenue to Lake Washington, and from Madison Street to I-90.  The Cultural District effort is trying to facilitate dialog with those bringing new development — We will have a better neighborhood if every new person knows and pay attention to the place to which he or she is moving.

Although one of the jobs of the effort is to call out places of importance in the African-American history of the neighborhood, it is much more than that.  In the hoped-for future, there will be more opportunities, not less, to see and celebrate African-American artistic and cultural heritage.  As one neighbor at the January SPCC meeting put it, there is a need to do more than create a neighborhood that is a “museum of where black people used to live” but also to attract more black people to stay in and return to the neighborhood.

For neighbors who are not black, but who so often speak of their appreciation of the neighborhood’s “diversity”, the challenge will be to recognize and respect the heritage which is an important source of that diversity.

Matthew Richter, the Cultural Space Liaison for the City of Seattle, was recently quoted in the “Seattle Weekly” as saying that, with Capitol Hill, the City’s first designated cultural district “we need to remind people this is more than a binge-drinking neighborhood” and in the Central District, “we need to remind people this is more than a housing neighborhood for tech workers.”

Official designation of the District by the City comes with a grant of $50,000 and a “creative placemaking toolkit”.  The toolkit includes programs, projects, and mechanisms to support district identification, wayfinding, busking and plein air painting support, art historic markers, pop-up space activations, parklets, “build art space” certification, and cultural preservation and landmarking.

The primary Arts District Development Partners include: Northwest African American Museum, Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, Meredith Mathews YMCA, Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Coyote Central, The Hidmo Cypher, Brownbox Theatre, Seattle Black Arts Alliance, Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Corona Café, Jubilee Community Church NuBlack Arts West Theatre, and is in partnership with Africatown, Ariel Productions, and the James and Janie Washington Foundation.



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