In its first foray into the Central District, South Lake Union developer Vulcan Real Estate paid $30.9 million this week for large parcels of land that bracket South Jackson Street on the east side of 23rd Avenue South.

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For 14 years, local East African immigrants have found their way to Berhane Amanuel’s store in the Promenade 23 shopping center on South Jackson Street to connect with the community, stock up on groceries and hear the latest beats from home.

Among the rows of neatly stacked shelves are 10-pound bags of Ethiopian coffee beans, along with roasting pans and a ceramic boiling pot used in a traditional coffee ceremony. The store offers customers items they can’t get at the Red Apple Market next door.

“I feel like this is my home,” said Fekadu Hailu, 30, of West Seattle, who shops at Amanuel’s store frequently. “They have everything here.”

But change is afoot for the center’s retailers: In its first foray into the Central Area, South Lake Union developer Vulcan Real Estate paid $30.9 million this week for large parcels of land that bracket South Jackson on the east side of 23rd Avenue South.

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Next year Vulcan, which is owned by Paul Allen, plans to clear the 3.6-acre site south of Jackson where the Red Apple, East African store and other shops sit to build a mixed-use project with 570 apartments in two mid-rise buildings. One-fifth of the units will be dedicated for “workforce housing,” for households earning from 65 percent to 85 percent of area median income.

Vulcan isn’t the first developer to launch a project in the Central Area, but its arrival sends a signal.

“Whenever an institution with the size, competency and reputation of Vulcan makes a move, others take notice,” said Dylan Simon, vice president of investment sales for Colliers International in Seattle. “What helps areas transform are large bets, and other people can draft off of those bets.”

For decades Seattle’s Central Area neighborhood, south of Capitol Hill and north of Rainier Valley, was the heart of the African-American community, owing historically to racially restrictive land covenants in other parts of the city. Today the neighborhood is more multicultural.

 

South Lake Union developer Vulcan Real Estate plans its first project in the Central Area in a corridor the city wants to revitalize. Vulcan plans to demolish the retail plaza on the south side of South Jackson Street and build apartments.
South Lake Union developer Vulcan Real Estate plans its first project in the Central Area in a corridor the city wants to revitalize. Vulcan plans to demolish the retail plaza on the south side of South Jackson Street and build apartments.

 

The city is upgrading 23rd Avenue by widening sidewalks, installing new streetlights and replacing a century-old water main that runs beneath it. Traffic flow should be faster, the city says, as 23rd Avenue’s four lanes are converted to three lanes, with a lane in each direction and a center left-turn lane.

“23rd is the densest north-south transit corridor in Seattle, other than I-5,” said Simon, who sold two sites to Lake Union Partners, another local developer that is building apartment-and-retail projects at East Union and 23rd.

One of those two sites was a vacant parking lot. Now it’s The Central, a 92-apartment building that’s drawing new residents to the neighborhood. At 20th and East Union, a former abandoned building now has a patio and food trucks.

“If you can do something that creates less crime, that’s positive,” Simon said.

The neighborhood gives residents easy, quick access to Interstate 90 and Highway 520. Developers see no let up in demand for apartments, so they continue to search for land — and it’s less expensive in the Central Area, Simon said.

Vulcan, which in recent years has sold off South Lake Union properties, is building apartments in Yesler Terrace and now the Central Area.

The Promenade 23 site will directly benefit from a light-rail station about five-and-a-half blocks south at Judkins Park, said Lori Mason Curran, Vulcan’s director of real-estate investment strategy.

But for the East African grocery and other small businesses at Promenade 23, there’s uncertainty about where they will go.

Hailu was in the store Friday to buy injera, a flatbread that’s a staple in Ethiopia and Eritrea. He’s shopped at the store and eaten at its restaurant several times a week for the past six years.

Fliers posted in the store advertise an upcoming community event by the National Association of Eritrean Women in Seattle, as well as phone numbers for an Amharic-speaking tax adviser, real-estate broker and attorney.

Curran said there’s no immediate need for the tenants in the shopping center to move out.

But longer-term, the neighborhood needs more residential projects, she said.

“We are confident that adding a critical mass of residents to this currently un-residential site will contribute to the support of local businesses in the area, and our aim is to create some flexible retail spaces that will address the economic needs of smaller tenants,” she said.