By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
The African American community is going through a nostalgic reckoning as they witness a dramatic transformation and development of Seattle’s Central Area.
Recently, a collaboration of elected officials, grassroots organizations, bank representatives, non-profit leaders, real estate developers and artist joined together to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Africatown Plaza in Seattle’s Central District.
Africatown Plaza is a seven-story, mixed-use, $60 million project that will provide 126 units of affordable housing. Located in a previously redlined neighborhood that now commands a median home price of $840,000, the development will be home to a diverse collection of visual art by local, national, and international Black artists and provide space for community gatherings and a public plaza.
“It has been a number of years to get to this point,” says K. Wyking Garrett, CEO and President of Africatown Community Land Trust. “I am really excited about continuing the legacy of William Gross, who established the Central District as a settlement place for Black families when he bought that land in 1882 from Henry Yesler and he began to partition it off. We are here to continue to make space for the legacy of Black community that has called the Central District home for 140 years this year.”
Under the leadership of Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT) and in partnership with Community Roots Housing, the new construction signals the organization’s direction and focus on Black land ownership, building generational prosperity, and implementing community-led solutions to displacement in the historically Black neighborhood.
“As someone who grew up in the Central District, I know how important it is to protect livability and combat displacement in our neighborhoods,” says Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “The new Africatown Plaza will bring vitally needed community-led affordable housing, commercial, and cultural space to Seattle.”
After developments began springing up within the Midtown Center area, Africatown in partnership with other land developers and Black businesses saw and seized the opportunity to be a part of this new growth.
“The idea began when the Emoja Peace Center was erected in 2008,” recalls Garrett. “When the family that owned the Midtown Center property were ready to exit it was important for the Black community to get involved in acquiring the land. In 2017, we were part of the acquisition to acquire the property.”
Along with land development, the designers, with intent, has made it a point to highlight one of Black America’s oldest contributions to communities and the world, art. The development will be adorned with historical images and art produced by local, national and international artist, conveying through imagery the story of the Central Area.
“We have a significant investment in Black art,” says Garrett. “Black artist will help tell the journey of our community, artist locally, nationally and even some artist from around the world will be contributing to the development.”
The Africatown Plaza project builds upon Africatown Community Land Trust’s success at the Liberty Bank Building, creating a combined 241 units of affordable housing in a one-block radius.