As much as some neighbors may be looking forward to the demolition of the old Midtown Center shopping strip at 23rd and Union, the end isn’t much to celebrate. You can feel the missing systematic safety net for Seattle’s small businesses as one small shop owner struggles to sort out what comes next. Other changes will be inconvenient and, for some, further evidence that Seattle — and the Central District — is tossing aside community elements as it reaches for continued growth and development.
“Please help me. Please don’t forget about me,” Saad Ali pleads. The owner of the 99 Cents Plus store in the now mostly vacant shopping center is happy to finally hear from a journalist. Attention from Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant has helped, he says, but it hasn’t helped him find a new place to move his store or any opportunities for grants or financial assistance to weather the change. More useful, he says, has been recent conversations with a few officials from City Hall who are looking into ways to help Ali move.
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In the meantime, the store where his lease ran out on December 31st remains open for now. “I’ve been there 20 years,” Ali said. “I got love from my customers. They show me a lot of love.”
The changes and the end of longtime businesses at Midtown Center are part of long-planned, now finally starting to move forward efforts to redevelop the block. Though Patrick Foley of developer Lake Union Partners says plans to demolish the existing buildings are “slightly delayed” after last month’s review board rejection of the new mixed-use project’s design, the general timeframe for construction remains the same. It is nearly time for the buildings to come down.
That means the shopping center’s post office is a goner. Starting January 12th, services are being transitioned to the Broadway post office location. “The owner of the property where the East Union Post Office is located plans to re-develop the site and has asked the Postal Service to temporarily vacate the site,” a United States Postal Service official tells CHS. “We will return once the re-development has concluded. In the meantime, we are suggesting that our customers go to the Broadway Post Office for their mailing needs.”
Other important parts of Midtown Center have more solid futures. Legendary Earl’s Cuts is set to move across and join That Brown Girl Cooks in 24th and Union’s affordable and inclusively developed Liberty Bank Building.
Noble Spirits, the Midtown corner’s liquor shop, likely won’t find a nearby new home. The state license limits the location where a new shop can be located to a one mile radius. The store, owned by a state licensee that paid $500,000 for its permit for E Union and operates multiple Noble locations, will likely be shuttered for good. Daniel Beraki, who operates the 23rd and Union store, said Noble originally was discussed as a possible tenant in the new development when it is completed but the inclusion of a chain drugstore with liquor retailing plans of its own has killed that idea. Noble Spirits remains open and Beraki said talks with the developers and the city about possible solutions continue.
Foley of Lake Union Partners said the longterm plans for Midtown Center shouldn’t be a surprise and he says that Africatown and Seattle University have both offered assistance for business planning and in trying to secure funding for new locations. The same community assistance helped Earl’s, Foley said. For now, Lake Union Partners has not begun the eviction process for 99 Cents Plus despite, Foley says, months of unpaid rent. 99 Cents Plus soon won’t have a choice. The buildings are planned to come down and redevelopment of the block is likely only months from beginning.
When the Midtown: Public Square project is complete, it will create hundreds of new apartments — and thousands of square feet of commercial retail space anchored by a new drugstore. The development will include around 125 affordable housing units allocated for households earning between $40,000 and $65,000 per year or 60% to 85% of area-median income (AMI) built as part of both the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program and the Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program (MFTE). The Lake Union Partners project will take place on 80% of the Midtown block, while the other 20% of the property was sold by Lake Union Partners to Africatown Community Land Trust and Capitol Hill Housing. The two projects have separate review processes and construction of the Africatown component is years away from starting.