Lake Union Partners principal Patrick Foley discusses the East Union development project at 23rd and Union.
Lake Union Partners principal Patrick Foley discusses the East Union development project at 23rd and Union.

Residents at an Africatown-Central District Community Development Update meeting on Thursday said they are fed up with empty promises from developers, and were particularly focused on 23rd and Union and an incoming non-union New Seasons Market.

Lake Union Partners principals Patrick Foley and Joe Ferguson came out that night to talk about their two projects at 23rd and Union. One was the redevelopment of MidTown Center, which is early in design, and the other was the nearly finished East Union apartments. (LUP also constructed The Central apartments at that intersection.)

East Union, a 144-unit mixed-use development, is set for completion by late May or early June, Foley said, with an 18,000-square-foot New Seasons “a couple months behind us.”

Fernando Mejia-Ledesma, state director for the Main Street Alliance of Washington, told the developers he has heard a lot of concerns about New Seasons, while LUP maintains it made its decision after much community feedback. He asked which stakeholders had been brought to the table.

Ferguson said LUP was looking for the right anchor tenant, citing New Seasons’ B-Corps status — a certification for meeting certain social and environmental standards.

Gerald Smiley with the Laborers Local 242 union and a Puget Sound Sage board member said Ferguson skirted the question; that he didn’t feel like there was real community engagement by LUP before making its decision on a grocer.

Ferguson said there had been discussion with the Seattle Office of Economic Development, Central Area Land Use Review Committee and 23rd Avenue Action Plan — a Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development project to identify commercial needs by the community at East Union, East Cherry and South Jackson streets.

“For the financial gain on that end,” Smiley said of the city group.

Ferguson pointed out the 20 percent discount LUP gave Africatown Plaza LLLP, a partnership between Africatown and CHH, to acquire 20 percent of MidTown Center for Africatown Plaza  — also at 23rd and Union — as evidence of the developer’s commitment to supporting the Central District’s African-American community.

Monisha Harrell, chair for Equal Rights Washington, was part of the 23rd Avenue Action Community Team. She said a market research study on what the community needed to thrive — funded by OED and released four years ago — did not support a high-end grocer like New Seasons.

“It was exactly the opposite of what we said would benefit the community,” she said, “and you’re trying to sell it to us.”

Ferguson pointed out that LUP is already under contract with New Seasons.

A member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 said Foley had told them at one point that New Seasons was not being considered for the East Union site.

Foley said, at the time he met with UFCW 21, Lake Union Partners had not talked with New Seasons. Metropolitan Market had been negotiating taking the space, he said, but wanted all of East Union’s parking space, which would have left none for residents.

“To say that I lied to you about it is just not true,” he said.

Karinda Harris, the new community manager for New Seasons in Seattle — previously external affairs liaison in former mayor Ed Murray’s office — tried to allay concerns about how the Portland-based grocer treats its employees.

Local opposition has pointed out New Seasons employees are not unionized. Harris said employees start at a minimum$15 an hour, have a profit-sharing plan, receive a store discount and have better benefits than Safeway or QFC, though those grocers do not make that information public.

“From what we know, our benefits are better,” she said, adding the grocer also provides organic and healthier foods.

New Seasons has already expanded into Washington, with a Mercer Island store opening late last year. A Ballard location is set to open next spring.

“The truth is that we’re coming,” Harris said, “and this is not the last time that I will be here.”

One resident asked about New Seasons Market and its ties to Endeavour Capital, which he believed provided $200,000 in funding to the Republican Party to support privatizing social security and Medicare.

Harris clarified to the audience that the resident was thinking of the Murdock Charitable Trust, which invests in a fund that Endeavour Capital uses to fund New Seasons. (The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust also gave $375,000 to a legal group that supported North Carolina’s anti-transgender bill last year). Harris agreed the trust has supported terrible causes. 

Sarah Joannides, New Seasons Market’s director of social responsibility, said Endeavour shares the grocer’s values, and also doesn’t run the company. (Endeavour Capital also invests in Metropolitan Market.)

Harris then remembered that New Seasons Market is open to a community benefits agreement (a contract between community groups and a developer committing to certain amenities or standards).

“We haven’t made any decision about when that would take place yet,” she said.

A former New Seasons employee at the Mercer Island store was in the audience, and she said she was offered $13.50 an hour to start as a buyer. When she eventually quit, she said she was making $15.47 an hour.

Joannides said it was likely New Seasons had changed its position on wages since then.

“I quit in August,” said the former employee, who declined to provide her name to CHT. She added New Seasons hires upper management from out of state. “There really isn’t any people of color there.”

Kasi Farrar, organizing director with UFCW 21, said the union had heard turnover at the Mercer Island location was at 50 percent as early as February.

New Seasons Market will be focused on hiring from within the community, Joannides said, making sure people know the opportunity exists, including through job fairs. The Central District New Seasons expects to employee 100 workers.

Africatown and Capitol Hill Housing

Earlier during the meeting, Africatown president K. Wyking Garrett and Capitol Hill Housing senior vice president Jill Fleming shared an update on the Liberty Bank project at 24th and Union, and how the principles established in a memorandum of understanding have carried over to Africatown Plaza.

“Africatown is about manufacturing space — specifically the Central District — as a place where the beauty and the best of the African experience here can continue and flourish,” Garrett said.

Liberty Bank, 2320 E. Union St., was the first black-owned bank in the city, he said, and then the site became a Key Bank. When the business left, the expectation was that the community would reclaim the space. Garrett’s father, Omari Tahir-Garrett led that effort, he said.

Capitol Hill Housing and Africatown broke ground on the 115-unit affordable housing development on Juneteenth (June 19) — the date in 1865 that the abolition of slavery was announced.

Last October CHH, Africatown,The Black Community Impact Alliance and self-sufficiency nonprofit Centerstone entered an MOU to mitigate displacement of the community and give African-American business owners an opportunity to return to the neighborhood.

The MOU will guarantee long-term African-American ownership in the community, Fleming said, giving Africatown the opportunity to acquire Liberty Bank after a 15-year investment period.

Capitol Hill Housing is also prioritizing minority-owned and local subcontractors for work on Liberty Bank — 30 percent are women and minority-owned, Fleming said, with 17 percent being African-American.

Several local entrepreneurs are in discussions to open a restaurant in the corner retail space at Liberty Bank, but Fleming said she was unable to reveal those names. 

Smiley called using nonunion labor for the project a “slap in the face” to local laborers, adding the general contractor, Walsh Construction, is based in Oregon.

Fleming said laborers on the Liberty Bank project are being paid a prevailing wage, as required by the city, and that developers are working with local Walsh employees through the company’s Seattle office.

Liberty Bank financing includes $16.5 million in construction financing from Heritage Bank and $12.2 million from the Seattle Office of Housing.

Nonprofit Enterprise is providing $10 million of equity for Liberty Bank. Fleming said investors in that fund are not always transparent.

“It’s frequently a bank,” she said. “Seattle is a strong market for banks for investing.”

Garrett said getting people housed once Liberty Bank is completed requires following Fair Housing laws, but the plan is to keep pushing outreach so people in the community know to apply. The same goes for getting African-American businesses in the available retail spaces.

“Hopefully we’ll have all black businesses in the space,” he said, adding Africatown is currently advocating for preference policies with the city of Seattle.

The MOU also provides seed money for a small business innovation fund, Garrett said, and additional funds are being raised to help business owners with tenant improvements.

Foley said a similar MOU has been inked for MidTown Center and Africatown Plaza. Ferguson said developers are planning smaller, more affordable retail spaces on their portion of the side of the superblock.

To subsidize below-market rents, a 12,000-square-foot drug store is proposed. When Lennar Multifamily Communities and retail-focused partner Regency Centers had been under contract for the property, those developers had proposed a 30,000-square-foot grocery store. 

Foley said conversations have started with black business owners, but could not name those currently. Earl Lancaster’s Earl’s Cuts & Style will either come back to MidTown or move to Liberty Bank.

All of the 120-130 apartments proposed at Africatown Plaza will be at affordability levels, and Garrett said there is exploration of providing townhouses for affordable ownership.

“We know that you don’t build equity through owning an apartment,” Garrett said.

That conversation is being had with Homestead Land Trust.

Read more about MidTown Center and Africatown Plaza, and what residents at a recent Central Area Land Use Review Committee meeting had to say here.