Even before developer Ted Schroth bought Odd Fellows Hall, home to the Century Ballroom and Velocity Dance Center, for $8.5 million in January, neighborhood artists were lamenting the loss of community art spaces to higher rents and new upscale developments. Now developer Michael Malone's purchase of the COHO Building, on 12th Avenue between Pike and Pine streets, is causing a new wave of anxiety among the soon-to-be- displaced artists who call it home.
Malone, who made his fortune marketing "foreground music" at Seattle's AEI Music in the 1970s, says he bought the 91-year-old building two months ago because he wants to keep Capitol Hill's classic architecture out of the hands of condo developers. "I want to be the one responsible for this building being here for the next 100 years," Malone says.
Vanessa Briggs, a painter and video artist, shares her second-floor loft with her two young children and sublets the rest of the space to other artists. Like most of COHO's 14 tenants, Briggs pays less than a dollar a square foot for the large, comfortable space she's lived and worked in for the last four years. And she isn't happy about being forced out of her home. "It's not enough just to keep the building standing," said Briggs. "The value is not just in the walls; it's in the people inside."
Malone says that if he wanted to keep the building residential, he would have to completely replace the plumbing. Instead, he's going with a cheaper option—asking the city to rezone the building from residential to commercial, which means the tenants will have to go. Malone paid $4.25 million for the building, and says that even if the tenants could stay, he'd have to raise rents considerably to recoup his expenses.
COHO residents lament their looming displacement as a sign of a sea change in the neighborhood. "My neighborhood is going to be gone. Artists and small businesses just can't afford to be here anymore," says Karen Moskowitz, a photographer who has lived on the first floor of the COHO for 18 years.
In response to growing concerns about artist displacement (in addition to Odd Fellows, the Capitol Hill Arts Center, which housed several arts-related organizations, was displaced when its lease ran out in June), Seattle City Council Members Nick Licata and Sally Clark have been meeting with community members to figure out a way to retain the neighborhood's artistic vibrancy. "As Seattle becomes gentrified... there's a lot of displacement occurring, and we're working on trying to halt some of that," said Licata.
Several of the displaced COHO Building residents say the council's efforts are coming too late. Tiffany Bennett, a filmmaker who lives on the third floor of the COHO, said she's been "eyeing Tacoma for some time now." Moskowitz and her husband, musician Michael Cozzi, are now looking at growing artist communities in cheaper areas, like Georgetown. And Briggs, who is still coming to terms with her situation, says she'll probably put her paints and video equipment into storage and move into a one-bedroom apartment with her children.