The Central Area Senior Center holds two major fundraising events each year. The Seafair Patio Party on Aug. 4, and its holiday gala on the first Saturday in December. Watch for update at centralareasrcenter.org.

For the past 43 years, the Central Area Senior Center has been operating on a month-to-month lease with the City of Seattle. But CASC director Dian Ferguson says she’s more optimistic than ever that ownership of the community space will soon change hands for the better.

The CASC building was constructed by the Christian Science church as a nursing home in 1959, and ran for less than a decade. African American leaders and community activists convinced the city to purchase the Leschi building at 500 30th Ave. S. as a senior center that could serve the Central Area’s aging population.

CASC partnered with Sound Generations (formerly United Way’s Senior Services) in 1975, entering into a month-to-month lease with the city. In exchange for a reduced rent, CASC has handled maintenance costs and minor renovation work during that time.

CASC not only provides services and programs for seniors, including a daily lunch, Bingo Tuesdays and a nurse that helps people with mobility issues, it is also a community gathering and event space for several Central Area neighborhoods, Ferguson said.

“We’re actually cramped for space,” she said. “We’d like to expand our footprint.”

The senior center has paid for inspection reports, Ferguson said, and is working with a structural engineer to determine what can be done with the building. The east side of the property faces a slope, so CASC is currently considering how it could add a floor over its dining hall.

CASC hopes to have a commitment from the City of Seattle to have the first right of purchase of the one-story Central Area building by the end of the year, Ferguson said, and wants to be able to acquire it for what the city paid in 1969 — $300,000.

The Madison Park Times reached out to the Office of Planning and Community Development, and later received a call from Kamaria Hightower, a spokesperson with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office. MPT’s request to speak with someone with the city about the process resulted in this one-paragraph statement from the Office of Economic Development:

“The City of Seattle is inspired by the Central Area Senior Center’s enthusiasm and commitment to the community. The City continues to explore possible paths forward. As we do, we will work closely with the Central Area Senior Center and the community.” 

When the Madison Park Times requested to speak with an actual city official, it received another call from Hightower, who admitted to having no real knowledge of this potential sales agreement.

“We’re still looking at what our options are,” Hightower said. “I don’t know what the options are at this point.”

Ferguson started with CASC in 2014, and spent the past four years working on stabilizing operations and negotiating a transfer of the city-owned property to the senior center. According to CASC’s 2019-23 business plan, the senior center recovered from three years of deficit budgets and realized three years at surplus.

CASC also completed a number of renovations on the building in that time and expanded its operations by 12 hours per week by adding evening programs.

Ferguson said CASC has raised $125,000 to repair and reconfigure its aging parking lot, which would include dedicated spaces for Access buses and solid waste collection. The permit application was submitted in April 2017, but CASC has still not been authorized to complete the project, Ferguson said.

As the senior center awaits a firm commitment from the city to sell CASC the property — which would require city council approval — its business plan includes a number of financial and fundraising targets for 2018 and 2019.

That includes: building a $10,000 operating reserve fund by the end of 2018; creating an annual pledge drive to increase individual donations from $16,000 to $24,000; achieving $62,000 in program fee revenues in 2019; increasing grant funding from $35,000 to $45,500 in 2019; generating $10,000 in annual partnerships from businesses to help create a marketing DVD; increasing program-based sponsorships; achieving nonprofit property tax exemption status in 2019 and obtaining $30,000 in program contracts with agencies outside Seattle city limits.

CASC’s business plan anticipates the senior center coming out with a new brand, tagline, logo and graphics by Jan. 1.

Ferguson said she believes the city departments she’s working with see the benefits of the senior center, which facilitates about 2,000 seniors and community members annually.

“Almost everybody that you can think of comes here regularly and utilizes the center,” she said.

That includes a growing number of homeless seniors, Ferguson said, as more and more elderly residents are priced out of the city. Part of CASC’s goals for this year and next is to help the elderly population it serves continue aging in place.

Ferguson said affordable senior housing is an idea CASC is considering for the property, but that conversation is a long way out, and contingent on being able to purchase the property.

According to the 2018 Seattle/King County Count Us In report, a majority of people experiencing homelessness were people of color, with African Americans representing 27 percent of the count, but only 6 percent of the general county population. Six percent of respondents were 61 years of age or older, that figure holding steady from the 2017 count.

A number of city departments had the opportunity to assess the property for other future uses, Ferguson said, such as parks and recreation, which thought the property would make a nice off-leash dog park site.

The Department of Neighborhoods awarded CASC a $49,454 Neighborhood Matching Fund grant in 2015 for facility planning options.

Former mayor Ed Murray signed legislation last August recognizing the Central Area community for the work it performed to create a 23rd Avenue Action Plan and Urban Design Framework. That legislation also committed the city to actively encouraging reuse of city-owned property for affordable housing and nonprofit community uses.

“This includes opportunities to support community ownership models such as community land-trusts and recommendations for community ownership of City-owned property to support programs serving the Central Area, such as the Central Area Senior Center and Centerstone/Fire station 23,” according to Resolution 31752.