More guidance for Africatown Plaza

Community provides feedback on three design concepts for new affordable housing development

More guidance for Africatown Plaza

More guidance for Africatown Plaza

Africatown Community Land Trust and a cadre of architects checked three design concepts with the Central Area community on Tuesday, with the potential for elements from each to be incorporated into plans for a new affordable housing development in the neighborhood.

The three concepts for Africatown Plaza all include a minimum of 134 housing units averaging 600 square feet, with 64 studios and 42 one-bedrooms currently proposed.

“I think it’s going to work. I think it’s a good idea,” said Lawrence Pitre, president of the Central Area Chamber of Commerce. “I just think the ratio should be looked at again.”

Rita Green agreed. Her mother, the late DeCharlene Williams, owned DeCharlene’s Beauty Shop & Boutique, and was the founder of the Central Area Chamber of Commerce.

“A lot of families have left the community,” Green said. “If they don’t own, they’ve left because they can’t afford to rent here.”

Rather than funding by unit, she said, Seattle’s Office of Housing should base its financial support on the number of bedrooms, so Africatown Plaza can include more two- and three-bedroom units. Only 12 units each are proposed at those sizes currently.

The three concepts presented on June 25 were designed using feedback provided by community members during the first Africatown Plaza Community Design Meeting in May. By a show of hands, many residents who showed up to critique the preliminary designs were new additions to the process.

Three architecture firms and one landscape architecture company used the overlapping ideas from the first round of group exercises to come up with the concepts. They will now use feedback from the second meeting to come up with a preferred design. A funding application will be submitted with the Office of Housing in September, said GGLO architect Whitney Lewis. Another public meeting will follow, as the project enters the early design guidance process with the Central Area Design Review Board.

Standing inside the Liberty Bank Building, architect Laurie Allison Wilson pointed across the street, where Lake Union Partners will redevelop 80 percent of the Midtown Center superblock — between 23rd and 24th avenues and Spring and East Union streets — to include 430 apartment units, a 12,000-square-foot drug store and smaller ground-floor retail units intended for women- and minority-owned businesses.

Beyond that, Africatown and Capitol Hill Housing will develop Africatown Plaza. The property was acquired with a $4.5 million loan the Africatown LLLP entity — CHH and Africatown — received from Seattle’s Office of Housing, and represents 20 percent of the entire Midtown property.

The concepts discussed in groups on June 25 had Swahili names: Mti (the canopy); Bendera (the flag); and Moyo (the heart).

Each concept was designed with a focal point at the corner of 23rd Avenue and Spring Street, where Africatown will have its offices and additional community spaces. It will have an iconic form and use premium materials, which are planned for 20 percent of the project, while the other 80 percent will be less expensive materials, said architect Erin Feeney with David Baker Architects in San Francisco.

“We’re trying to make sure that the indoor programs really speak to the outdoor programs, and there’s transparency between them,” said landscape architect Biruk Belay with SiteWorkshop.

Community-generated ideas for Africatown Plaza include art installations, childcare and after-school programs, electric vehicle charging stations, job training and case management services and underground parking.

While Lake Union Partners struggled to get its Midtown Commons through design review due to its heavy focus on art along its facades and pass-throughs, art programming won’t be as intensive at Africatown Plaza.

“That wouldn’t be true to the mission of Africatown, for us,” Lewis said.

But the community made clear in May, and again in June, that they want a design and art that is Afrocentric and honors the history of the Central District community. Feeney said there will be opportunities to address these elements and gather more ideas during Umoja Fest, which runs Aug. 2-4 in Judkins Park. The annual festival celebrates the African American community and African Diaspora culture.

Residential units are planned along Spring Street and 24th Avenue, but community input is to avoid any on the ground floor. If any are developed, they request that they include stoops.

For the Bendera concept, people liked the idea of a shade garden between Africatown Plaza and Midtown Commons, and wanted to make sure the window fenestration allows in enough light, said architect Clara Cheeves with GGLO.

Community members assigned to the Moyo focus group talked about the desire for a stage or amphitheater along Spring Street, and also supported having a community garden, said Mujale Chisebuka, cofounder of Black Dot, an incubation hub for Central District entrepreneurs.

For Mti, community members wanted to see the tree canopy inspiration expressed in some way with the rooftop design, said Jamila Wasson-Pehan, a member of Africatown and Liberty Bank resident. They also pushed for more community access.

Tacoma resident Chris Jordan came out to the design meeting on June 25, inspired by the collaboration between developers and grassroots organizations. His historically black Hilltop community is facing its own issues regarding economic displacement, which he said is due to people moving from Seattle to Tacoma for more affordable housing. With higher wages in Seattle than Tacoma, that gives them an advantage, he said.

“We’ve been pushing in Tacoma for more representation in our housing development, especially in Hilltop,” Jordan said.

Jordan is co-director for the Fab-5 nonprofit that started nearly 20 years ago in Pierce County to expand opportunities for young people in the community. The organization is now working with developer Mithun on the community design process for a new 250-unit development in his neighborhood.