The city of Seattle this week began finalizing plans to transfer three Central District properties to Black-led community organizations that have long operated, or had plans to operate, public-service programs at the sites.
On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted to formally transfer ownership of an old fire station to Byrd Barr Place, which has occupied the building, running a food bank and housing-assistance programs, since 1969.
On Wednesday, Mayor Jenny Durkan unveiled legislation to formally transfer ownership of the Central Area Senior Center from the city to the nonprofit that has operated the center since 1975. Durkan also proposed legislation to grant a long-term lease at the city’s old Fire Station 6 to Africatown Community Land Trust, which has long planned to turn the shuttered building into a cultural innovation center to boost Black-owned businesses.
Durkan framed the three transfers as in line with, but separate from, her pledge to invest $100 million in programs for communities of color in next year’s budget.
“Our City must make real on the promise of bold investments in the Black community and increasing community ownership of land,” Durkan said.
The proposed transfers, long-planned but also long-stalled, can be seen as a result of this summer’s mass protests against systemic racism. They come as the City Council voted Tuesday to override Durkan’s vetoes of initial cuts to the city’s police budget, another result of the protest movement.
Byrd Barr Place has secured a state grant for more than $1 million to make improvements to its building, at 18th Avenue and East Columbia Street, but that was contingent on securing a long-term lease or ownership of the building. The property is assessed at $2.7 million.
Legislation Durkan has sent to the City Council would grant a no-cost 99-year lease to Africatown Community Land Trust to take over the art deco fire station at 23rd Avenue South and East Yesler Way.
The city designated the firehouse as a possible site for a cultural center back in 2016, but development stalled until early June, when, amid the largest sustained protests against systemic racism in decades, the city abruptly announced it would transfer Fire Station 6 to the community.
At the time, however, the organization wasn’t given any timeline on when it would be able to take over the building.
The structure hasn’t been used as a firehouse since 2013, when it was replaced with a new, larger facility. In the meantime, the Seattle Police Department has often used the property to store 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 the 19th-century Black businessman whose vast land holdings became the heart of the Central District.
“We have a lot of work to do to address the income and wealth gaps and make sure our community can thrive in the future of Seattle,” said K. Wyking Garrett, president and CEO of Africatown Community Land Trust. “We look forward to working with the city and many partners to remove systemic barriers and build the solutions we need for an equitable Seattle.”
The city has also committed $1 million to help remodel the old fire station, Durkan’s office said.
The Central Area Senior Center has been in a state of limbo for years, unable to make major renovations or improvements to its building, on 30th Avenue South overlooking Lake Washington, because they did not own it. That would change under the legislation Durkan has proposed, which would give the building to the organization at no cost.
Dian Ferguson, the center’s executive director, she said she was thrilled with the deal and excited to share the news with patrons.
The City Council passed a resolution almost two years ago calling for the center and similar properties to be transferred, leading Ferguson to believe the deal would be quickly sealed.
But Durkan’s administration introduced a list of requirements and requests, delaying an agreement, Ferguson said. The sticking points for some time were the nonprofit’s financial condition and Durkan’s interest in developing affordable housing on the site, Ferguson said.
She said the nonprofit and the Durkan administration struck a deal somewhat suddenly this past Friday, agreeing to let the center decide whether affordable housing should be developed.
The center has more money in the bank now than before, Ferguson said. She suspects this summer’s protests also played a role, given that the center is located in Seattle’s historic Black neighborhood and has always served many Black seniors.
“We phrased this as a social justice and equity issue, and that perhaps resonated with them,” Ferguson said. “They had a change of heart … I think all the summer activity helped.”