They found out they were getting the building through the social media grapevine. They still don’t have the deed, the keys or even a timeline.
But the Africatown Community Land Trust is celebrating the official pronouncement, at least four years in the making, that the abandoned fire house on 23rd Avenue South and East Yesler Way in the Central District will become a new cultural innovation center to boost Black-owned businesses.
The city designated the fire house as a possible site for the center back in 2016, but development has stalled since. That changed Friday when, amid the largest sustained protests against systemic racism in at least a generation, the city abruptly announced it would transfer Fire Station 6 to the community.
“We’re glad that this is finally able to move forward at this crucial time,” said K. Wyking Garrett, Africatown’s president and CEO, adding they were surprised by the city’s announcement. He said they want to meet with the city as soon as possible so their architects and contractors can get into the 1931 Art Deco building and assess what renovations are needed.
“Historic districts are OK, but we don’t want to be museum pieces and plaques in the neighborhood where we once were vibrant,” Garrett said. “This will be a living memorial.”
The city, in a brief statement Friday, said it understood “the urgency behind making bold investments in the Black community and increasing community ownership of land in the Central District.” But it offered no details and no timeline.
“The transfer of City-owned properties back to the community is a key strategy of City of Seattle’s anti-displacement work,” Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday. “Mayor Durkan supports these efforts.”
The structure hasn’t been used as a fire house since 2013, when it was replaced with a new, larger facility. Discussions about turning it over to the community as a cultural center have dragged on for years. In the meantime, the Seattle Police Department has often used the property as storage for parking enforcement vehicles.
The lot and building, which is designated as a historic landmark, are valued at slightly more than $3 million, according to the King County Assessor.
The site will be called the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation, for Grose, a 19th-century Black businessman whose vast landholdings became the heart of the Central District.
Garrett said he envisioned a center filled with the resources and technology to help young Black entrepreneurs launch and grow businesses in the area.
“It’s difficult to meet clients in Starbucks parking lots,” said Chukundi Salisbury, CEO of Seaspot Media, a publishing and entertainment company. “It’s important to have spaces like this where you can learn and create.
“There’s very few spaces that we walk into as African Americans where we know we’re loved,” Salisbury said. “Just to walk in and not feel out of place.”
Isaac Joy, with Africatown and King County Equity Now Coalition, questioned why it took so long to get the vacant building from the city.
“This was a property that was already guaranteed to us and yet it took immense amounts of organization, immense amounts of pressure,” Joy said. “This is a good step, but the racial resource gap between the Black community and white community is so large that this is a drop of a drop.”
The Equity Now Coalition is asking for other vacant, publicly owned properties to be handed over to Black-led community groups. They point specifically to a vacant Sound Transit lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South Angeline Street and the former Paramount Nursing Home site on South Dearborn Street.
The coalition has called for a halt to “predatory development” in the Central District, once the heart of Seattle’s Black community, which has been decimated by gentrification, and a $500 million land acquisition fund.
“William Grose is one building,” said TraeAnna Holiday, a community ambassador for Africatown. “We need 10, 20 of these in order to balance the scales.”