“This is a rare example of new construction with art space in it. The only way we could do it is we had to raise $4.6 million dollars from a capitol campaign to make the space permanently affordable,” says Michael Seiwerath, director of Capitol Hill Housing Foundation (which supports Capitol Hill Housing), as he gestures toward the sleek building on 12th and Pine that’s still under construction.
Capitol Hill Housing, the leader of this project, envisioned a better use for this space that was formerly a parking lot for the East Precinct. The organization wanted to build a space that would support the arts community while providing affordable housing. “We’ve been pushing the city to redevelop it for the last 13 years. They finally said yes,” Seiwerath says with a smile.
The 12th Ave Arts building will feature 88 apartments—two bedrooms, one bedrooms, and studios. It will also include two performing arts spaces; one will seat 149, and the other will seat 80. Seiwerath says that these spaces will be black box theaters with true configurable seats. “You could have them upright on Monday and all flat on Wednesday night.” He adds that the theaters are “acoustically decoupled from the rest of the building. There is good sound isolation.”
This detail will be important to the three theater groups that Capitol Hill Housing is master leasing the spaces to: New Century Theater, Strawberry Theater workshop, and Washington Ensemble Theater. Capitol Hill Housing’s offices will occupy a portion of the building, along with office space for Seattle Academy, Three Dollar Bill Cinema, and The Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. The street-level will feature retail spaces, including a Japanese noodle restaurant. Seiwerath explains that the idea is to keep the retail space in the building affordable, making it easy for tenants and employees to head downstairs for a quick, cheap bite to eat.
Capitol Hill Housing owns 44 buildings in Seattle. This organization’s goal—providing clean, affordable housing in Seattle—is becoming increasingly important in the context of this rapidly growing city. According to Census Bureau, Seattle grew by 2.8 percent from July 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013, the highest rate in the nation.
Seiwerath notes that for the first time in many years, Seattle is growing significantly faster than the suburbs. This inevitably means a sharp increase in rental rates as well as the proliferation of contemporary buildings that are sleek and stylish. Current residents in the neighborhood sometimes scorn these chic apartment buildings, such as the new Pine & Minor, the Stream Belmont, or The Local 418, associating them with the disappearance of art and character in the neighborhood. Seiwerath, understanding this fear, quotes urban planner Jane Jacobs: “New ideas must use old buildings.”
In 2011, the Bullitt Foundation awarded Capitol Hill Housing a grant to establish an EcoDistrict in Capitol Hill, which spreads from Aloha Street all the way down to Madison. The purpose of the area is to “create an equitable, healthy and vibrant community that supports sustainable living.”
Within the EcoDistrict, Capitol Hill Housing is working on several projects including: building affordable housing, growing a Capitol Hill Community Orchard, monitoring air quality, and reducing the use of automobiles and non-renewable energy. Seiwerath notes that current projects include controlling the storm runoff into Puget Sound. There is also a potential project on Capitol Hill as part of Seattle City Light’s Community Solar program. With the possibility of solar panels, he explains, Capitol Hill residents may eventually start seeing a reduction in their utility bills.
Using an eco-conscious mindset, Capitol Hill Housing also continues to work with local artists and organizations in order to promote art and diminish the fear that the neighborhood is void of the raw character that once dominated the streets. While Capitol Hill is seeing an increase in wealth marked by new, expensive buildings with high rental costs, the organization is making an attempt to preserve the art that still exists.
Walking with Seiwerath and the art walk group, we headed into Velocity and were given a glimpse of a ballet lesson and a preview of their funky ‘Soul Train’ fundraising event. At NW Film Forum, Courtney Sheehan told us about the video art that they were featuring for art walk. At Hugo House, Elisa Chavez gave us a tour and talked about all of the free events, including the house’s Cheap Wine & Poetry series, where you can listen to poets and drink wine for a buck a cup. The 12th Ave Arts building will be right around the corner from these establishments.
It’s slated to open in mid-November. There will be a huge party for the grand opening. Everyone is invited.