Africatown Community Land Trust real estate development lead Muammar Hermanstyne and Africatown CEO K. Wyking Garrett address participants at the design meeting.
Africatown Community Land Trust real estate development lead Muammar Hermanstyne and Africatown CEO K. Wyking Garrett address participants at the design meeting.

The Africatown Community Land Trust is designing its mixed-use affordable housing development to be a cultural place-maker in the Central District, but not before the neighborhood has weighed in on what that looks like.

Longtime residents and those wanting to return to the Central District after being economically displaced participated in the first Africatown Plaza Community Design Meeting on Thursday, May 23, inside a vacant retail space at the Liberty Bank Building.

Africatown is partnering with Capitol Hill Housing to develop the south end of the Midtown Center superblock to include 138 affordable apartment units, ground-floor retail and Africatown office space.

Lake Union Partners purchased the entire 106,000-square-foot Midtown Center property from the Bangasser family for $23.5 million in May 2018, making the southern 20 percent of the site available to Africatown for redevelopment.

The property was acquired with a $4.5 million loan the Africatown LLLP entity — CHH and Africatown — received from Seattle’s Office of Housing.

Africatown CEO K. Wyking Garrett said he wants the design for Africatown Plaza to improve upon what was created with the Liberty Bank Building, which CHH also developed in partnership with Africatown, The Black Community Impact Alliance and self-sufficiency nonprofit Centerstone.

“For one, we were not included in this phase for Liberty Bank Building project,” Garrett tells MPT, “so when we did get involved we were able to give more community involvement.”

A memorandum of understanding with CHH committed the affordable housing developer to bringing on minority-owned subcontractors and business owners to fill Liberty Bank’s retail spaces.

“For us, it’s about designing and building with, not designing and building for,” Garrett said, “so it’s important to get the ideals, include the process, building the community’s IQ around design and planning, so we’re not always subjected to other people’s designs and plans that happen to us.”

Design meeting participants first drew an image or symbol they felt represented the black experience in the Central District, and then were given posters of Africatown Plaza’s footprint along Spring Street, between 23rd and 24th avenues. Using cutout pieces representing apartments, entryways, retail spaces and multiple amenities, groups collaborated on designs, with each table sharing what they came up with at the end of the meeting.

“It should be done that way, right?” said Muammar Hermanstyne, formerly a project manager at CHH and now real estate development lead for Africatown. “It’s called community development.”

GGLO architecture firm principal Jon Hall told attendees the design team would incorporate input from the May 23 meeting into a concept design to share at a later meeting, with a final schematic design expected by the end of summer. Fundraising will ramp up after that, and Hermanstyne said he expects financing to be similar to Liberty Bank, with Office of Housing funding and 4 percent low income housing tax credit bonds. Hall said the project could break ground by fall 2020 if everything goes according to plan.

Edd Hampton was raised in the Cenral District, but now lives in West Seattle, he said. Hampton came out to help shape Africatown Plaza with the hope of someday living there. He said he wants to see tech incubator space to help people gain skills, and he also wants the development to offer restaurants, clothing stores and maybe a grocery spot.

“I want to see it all in one place,” Hampton said, “because you don’t see black communities with just everything in one place.”

Creating spaces that empower residents and provide them with marketable skills was among the top asks from the community.

Dr. Jewel Sae-Tiew said another important amenity for Africatown Plaza would be youth activity spaces that keep them close to home and safe. That sentiment was echoed by 8-year-old Saire Williams-Bullen, who also wanted an art studio at Africatown Plaza and stoops to sit on.

Sae-Tiew grew up on 32nd Avenue, but ended up moving to Redmond because it’s more affordable.

“This is my neighborhood,” she said. “When Wyking put it out that this meeting was going on, I made a point to come out.”

Beryl Fernandes, an urban planner who provides student mentorship from Rainier Valley to Rainier Beach, also pointed out the story booth her group put on the table, with a gathering space for elders nearby.

“They have wonderful stories going back decades,” she said.

Fernandes said she saw representatives of the diversity that once existed in the Central District at the May 23 meeting.

“How do you generate this kind of energy?” she said. “There’s no formula.”

It’s her hope that other developers follow Africatown’s model of community development, bringing together stakeholders first and designs second.