Less than a month ago, Africatown CEO K. Wyking Garrett stood inside the Black Dot business incubator and economic center he cofounded and told community members about plans to redevelop Midtown Center around the neighborhood’s needs. Now, Black Dot is facing eviction on 23rd and Union.
“We have been targeted by a segment of the owners of the property who are currently managing it and are currently trying to push us out of the space,” Garrett told a crowd inside the Black Dot on Monday, March 13.
A property that has not only put a strain on the relationship between the five sibling owners, Midtown Center is also the only block on 23rd and Union that isn’t yet primed for redevelopment.
The last attempt at redevelopment, by Lennar Multifamily Communities and retail-focused partner Regency Centers, fizzled out when the developers reportedly could not get an extension on their contract with the Bangasser family.
This came after the East Design Review Board told the developers it wanted them to split the super-block project up into more structures. A 30,000-square-foot grocery store attached to the project made that a nearly impossible request, the developers had said.
Garrett said during Monday’s meeting at Black Dot that there had been an understanding that the organization, which provides technical assistance to African American-owned and operated businesses and microenterprises, could stay in the space until the 106,000-square-foot Midtown Center lot was sold and ready for redevelopment.
The hope was to eventually move the business incubator into the old Fire Station 6, he said, the site being considered for the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation, named for an African-American businessman who settled in Seattle in 1861 and had helped free slaves.
“It’s been through the process, there’s been a feasibility study by the city, it’s been voted in as part of the equitable development plan,” Garrett said, “it’s an equitable development project, certified by the city council.”
Black Dot representatives argue an attempt to illegally evict them from Midtown Center resulted in an attempt to change locks to the building while they were there on Friday, March 10. Garrett said he told the locksmith that wasn’t legal, then the property manager called the police.
Garrett said the manager made a false claim that he was “physically trying to stop the locksmith from changing the locks.” Police determined it was a civil matter, Garrett said. The locks were not changed.
Midtown Center general partner Hugh Bangasser and a crew entered the property over the weekend, Garrett said, moving things around and leaving various trash and cleaning supplies.
“This situation, again, just highlights the importance for us to move forward aggressively with development solutions that include community ownership,” Garrett said.
Forterra, a nonprofit that helps communities acquire property for preservation and restoration, had been working with Africatown to acquire its 20 percent of Midtown Center when it was still a Lennar/Regency development. On Feb. 23, Garrett announced Africatown and Forterra had submitted a letter of interest to purchase the 2.4-acre site.
In an email response to questions regarding Black Dot’s use of space at Midtown Center, Hugh Bangasser states, “The essential facts are that MidTown does not have and has never had any lease with Black Dot. Prior to the events of last Friday, the former leasee had already terminated its lease for this space.”
Tom Bangasser has been a major advocate for turning redevelopment of the property — purchased by his grandfather in 1941 — over to Africatown. Connected to the property for 50 years, Bangasser said he added value to the property while he was managing it.
“It is my fault,” he told the Capitol Hill Times about the property’s desirability for redevelopment, “because I created the problem here.”
Bangasser brought Earl Lancaster of Earl’s Cuts and Styles next door with him to the makeshift podium, where he talked about how Lancaster’s grandma had convinced him to lease space to the then-aspiring barber.
“Twenty-eight years later, Earl is the mayor of the Midtown area,” Bangasser said. “Everybody knows Earl.”
Bangasser wants the property to retain its black roots in the Central District, to be a model for community development and not gentrification.
His siblings voted him out as controlling member of Midtown Limited Partnership two years ago, prompting him to file suit to be compensated for decades of property management for the family.
“I have to say that I am embarrassed that I have some brothers and some sisters that do not respect what the history of this place is all about,” Bangasser said. “I find it very troubling for me, and it’s created a huge rift within my family.”
He encouraged those in attendance at Monday’s meeting to voice their concerns about Black Dot and the future of Midtown Center to his brother, Hugh. Bangasser put the impetus on the community members to secure the site for the future, or they could only blame themselves for whatever comes next, he said. Bangasser told them to write to the mayor and city councilmembers about putting a pause on any redevelopment attempts at Midtown Center.
“I remember when this all started; it was Dec. 22, 2014. Xavier was involved in it. Earl was involved in it. Wyking was involved in it, and a proposal was sent to the ownership here,” Bangasser said, “to acquire this property. And the reason I know that date, is because Dec. 22, 2014 would have been my mother’s 100th birthday.”
Rebekah Liebermann from Kshama Sawant’s office came to represent the District 3 city councilmember, delivering a message of solidarity with Black Dot, as well as what needs to be done to stop displacement and make the city affordable.
“We’re going to have to tax the super-wealthy,” Liebermann said. “The big developers that run roughshod all over our community, all across Seattle — not just here, but especially here — who are given handout after handout.”
Local children’s book author Jeffrey Cheatham grew up in the Central District, and told attendees Monday he remembers a community that worked together, one that represented “black progress.”
“Then, all of a sudden, the older and older I got, more of it started to vanish,” he said.
He was connected with Black Dot when he decided to write children’s books; he wanted to gain marketing skills.
“When I saw 23rd and Union, I was all, ‘Ah, that’s at home,’” Cheatham said. “That’s my home.”
He said he gained business skills, and met many people that looked like him and had their own aspirations for the neighborhood.
“You had somebody who specialized in finance, talked to somebody that wanted to open up a restaurant, you had somebody who wanted to own their own janitor service, talking to somebody that wanted to be a children’s book writer,” Cheatham said.
It was about a week since the last time he was at Black Dot that he found out about the eviction attempt.
“I felt like, once again, my home was being taken away from me,” he said.
Cheatham said he wants the Central District to be preserved, a legacy for people like him to make for their children.
Garrett also briefly addressed the jailing of his father, Omari, for contempt of court. he said his father, who is facing eviction from his home on the edge of the Midtown site over large amounts on garbage left on his property.
Omari had been letting former Nickelsville campers relocate to his UmojaFest Peace Center on 24th Avenue. Bangasser said the campers were paid to leave, and told to leave everything on the property.
Bangasser tells CHT Omari Garrett had refused to address a judge as long as there was a picture of George Washington, a slave owner, behind him. Garrett said his father was held for seven days without formal charges, a hearing or a bond. He also claimed his father was subjected to “sleep deprivation and torture,” like at “Guantanamo.”
Stop the Sweeps organized a Saturday cleanup of the property, where Bangasser said thousands of pounds of garbage was hauled away. He added there is more work left to be done.
After Monday’s meeting, community members wrote down strategies and statements, helped put furniture, desks and bookshelves back in order, and put the unwanted items left behind over the weekend outside.
After the meeting, community members wrote down strategies and statements, helped put furniture, desks and bookshelves back in order, and put the unwanted items left behind over the weekend outside.