MidTown Center, which sits on 23rd Avenue South & Union Street, is slotted for redevelopment.
MidTown Center, which sits on 23rd Avenue South & Union Street, is slotted for redevelopment. Kelly O

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After months of eviction protests, the future of MidTown Center is finally becoming clearer. Today, Seattle-based developer Lake Union Partners closed on a $23.3 million deal to purchase the historic 23rd Avenue South and Union Street block in partnership with Africatown and Forterra, a land conservation non-profit.

The real estate group will sell 20 percent of the MidTown block to Forterra on behalf of Africatown, which will use its portion of the block to provide ground-level retail space for local businesses and around 135 affordable housing units on upper floors. Lake Union Partners also plans to develop up to an additional 420 apartments with about 125 affordable units, which comply with the City of Seattle's Mandatory Housing Affordability program. The redevelopment could begin as soon as December 2018.

"The MidTown block represents the last opportunity to have a future that allows the African American community to grow and thrive in place," said K. Wyking Garrett, co-founder of Africatown. "We are optimistic that another path forward is being realized, which can inform [future projects]."

According to the earliest available data from the King County Assessor's website, the nine land parcels that make up MidTown Center were valued at about $11,700,000 in 2016—more than 1,000 percent higher than what they were worth in 1982. "Getting access to land remains one of the most formidable challenges because of the high, escalating real estate prices," said Doris Koo, lead consultant for the Yesler Community Collaborative, which helped facilitate the partnership between Africatown and Lake Union Partners and is seeking similar partnerships in other Seattle neighborhoods.

Last year, two bids to purchase the 23rd and Union property from the MidTown Limited Partnership fell through. Africatown and Forterra placed a bid on the MidTown property about six months ago, but the offer wasn't accepted at the time. The two groups later joined forces with Lake Union Partners, with help from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's office, the Office of Economic Development, and the Office of Housing.

This partnership echoes redevelopment plans for Liberty Bank, the first Black-owned bank west of the Mississippi River. That project, which launched last autumn, was an inspiration for the redevelopment partnership for MidTown Center, said Joe Ferguson, partner at Lake Union Partners, which owns the Central, East Union, and Stencil mixed-use buildings in the neighborhood. Ferguson and company partner Patrick Foley said they hope the MidTown redevelopment can serve as a model for communities outside of Seattle that are also navigating "what feels like hyper-speed of growth." Developers across the United States too often treat similar neighborhood as "commodities," rather than community assets, they said.

Activists having been demonstrating in MidTown Center for months in attempts to raise awareness about rapid gentrification in the Central District.
Activists having been demonstrating in MidTown Center for months in attempts to raise awareness about rapid gentrification in the Central District. Rebeca Muniz

It is still "too early" to say who the center's future tenants may be, said Ferguson of Lake Union Partners, but the firm is "eager and motivated” to work with Africatown to help support local African American entrepreneurs.

According to a statement from the three-groups, about half of the housing in the proposed redevelopment plan would be "affordable" to people making between 40 and 80 percent of the area median income.

Service workers, artists, musicians, teachers, and many others will be able to afford to live in the apartments planned for MidTown Center, said Michelle Connor, executive vice president of Forterra.

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"From our perspective as an organization concerned about sustainability, if our cities aren’t welcoming for our entire community, we’re going to destroy what makes the Northwest special," she said.

Longtime residents in the Central District, considered by many to be the hub of Seattle's black community, have been watching their neighbors scatter for years, said Kenny Pleasant, an Africatown board member.

"[There's] a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness in the Black community and what it does is paralyzes us," he said. "This [partnership] represents that there are options...that will inspire others to step up and get involved."