The Cultural Space Agency announced Monday that it has purchased more than 32,000 square feet of South Park property to be used as community-owned cultural space.

In its first acquisition of 2022, the agency, a real estate company chartered by the city of Seattle in 2021, joined with Cultivate South Park to buy four buildings that house South Park Hall, the South Park Idea Lab co-working space and what the news release defines as locally owned micro businesses, including Resistencia Coffee. The acquisition is funded by the city’s Strategic Investment Fund, which awarded the agency $2.3 million for the project, as well as by $3.5 million in private donations. 

The project, called El Barrio, will allow permanent community ownership of these historic spaces. South Park Hall, nearing 100 years old, will be “owned directly by the community it is designed to serve, through the creation of the El Barrio Community Trust, a mechanism for direct community investment in these properties,” according to the news release.

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Matthew Richter, interim executive director of the Cultural Space Agency, stressed the importance of community ownership in South Park, where 23% of people live below the poverty line amid a city of wealthy industries.

“So much more money has been generated through property ownership in this town than has been generated through any industry, whether you’re talking about aeronautics or coffee or high tech,” he said. “If we can provide an on-ramp to some of the communities who haven’t been able to be a part of that, to create these … community wealth-building opportunities, that’s the mission.”

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Since its incorporation in 1902, South Park has faced many obstacles, including the effects of redlining. Today, the South Seattle neighborhood faces environmental hazards like the heavily polluted Duwamish River and Highway 99, which cuts the community in half. This year, residents are fighting for the removal of about 1 mile of Highway 99 in a movement called “Reconnect South Park.”

For more than a century, Richter said, South Park residents have been unable to influence what happens in their own neighborhood, and El Barrio is a step to change that.

“My hope for South Park is whatever South Park hopes for itself,” he said. “The mission phrase that Coté brought to all of this is that the neighborhood should own the neighborhood. And implied in that ownership is control and agency.”

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