by Jack Russillo
The City of Seattle is finally making some real investments in its communities of color. Last week, the City published plans to transfer ownership of three properties in Seattle’s Central District to Black-led community organizations.
On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted to officially transfer ownership of Seattle’s old Fire Station 23 to Byrd Barr Place, an organization that has offered financial, food, and housing assistance in the area since 1964. Byrd Barr Place has been operating out of the building, located on the 700 block of 18th Avenue East, since it started leasing the property in 1967.
The former Fire Station 6, on the corner of 23rd Avenue South and East Yesler Way, is also being transferred to the Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT) in the form of a 99-year lease before permanent ownership is made official, a press release from the Mayor’s office announced last week. Since 2012, ACLT has been working to acquire the property to “acquire, develop, and steward land in Greater Seattle to empower and preserve the Black Diaspora community.”
“It’s been a process that has taken much too long, burdened by the city politics and bureacracy that perpetuate Jim Crow Apartheid status quo in Seattle by denying community the resources we need and deserve,” said K. Wyking Garrett, President and CEO of Africatown Community Land Trust. “We stayed focused and are glad to see it move forward to become an important resource for community.”
The ownership of the Central Area Senior Center (CASC), which has been operating on city-owned property since 1975, will also be formally transferred from the City to the community organization. CASC has been providing health and wellness services, counseling, transportation, and meals to Central District seniors since 1972.
“I think this has always been a place of harmony and gathering for people in the Central District,” said Dian Ferguson, Director of CASC since 2014. “It’s just been an important space for so many communities for a long time … We are so very happy that the Mayor did what she did on this one.”
While the buildings run by Byrd Barr Place and CASC will continue to offer the services that they have been for decades — albeit with more financial and legal freedom — Fire Station 6 will transform from a place where Seattle Police patrol vehicles are currently parked into a cultural innovation center operated by Black-led organizations. The Central District’s old fire station has been considered for a transfer of ownership since 2012, when the facility was put up for sale by the City, and in 2016 was considered one of the original Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) sites designed to reduce displacement of Seattle communities of color.
Fire Station 6 will eventually become the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation, named after the Central District’s first Black resident and property owner. There, the ACLT will provide small business assistance, skills training, and celebrate Black culture and history in the Central District. The 99-year lease will allow for the ACLT to take possession of the property and begin the necessary remodels while the process for permanent transfer of property ownership to the ACLT continues. Fire Station 6 will likely undergo the same ownership transfer process that Byrd Barr Place and CASC did in recent years.
Additionally, the City of Seattle has committed $1 million from the EDI fund for tenant improvements to the fire station. The ACLT will then have the decision-making power over how to use those funds on the property renovations to best suit the operations of the community center. In 2019, Byrd Barr also received $1 million in EDI funds for renovations in order to help the facility meet modern ADA and environmental standards.
“Building on the successful transfer of Byrd Barr Place, we are taking another step forward to transfer city properties to Black-led organizations that are playing an essential role in uplifting, supporting, and advocating for the Black community,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan in Wednesday’s press release. “Our City must make real on the promise of bold investments in the Black community and increasing community ownership of land.”
Earlier this month, the City passed legislation to establish a new permanent EDI Advisory Board to center community voices in future decision-making. The advisory board will work with the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD), Office of Economic Development, Office of Housing, Department of Neighborhoods, and other City departments to provide feedback on funding decisions aimed at combating residential, cultural, and economic displacement of BIPOC, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities as well as people with disabilities. In August, the City announced availability of the $5.8 million EDI fund for organizations led by and serving People of Color in high displacement risk neighborhoods.
The 13-person advisory board will be made up of three individuals appointed by the mayor, three appointed by the City Council, and the other seven being nominated by the members of the board. The board will meet on a monthly basis and will author annual reports that the City Council and OPCD will use to decide on the distribution of EDI funds.
The new advisory board, using the OPCD’s equitable development monitoring program, will also track areas where displacement risks for communities of color continue to rise, keep tabs on housing affordability, and observe economic opportunities that will help advance equitable development.
“We have a lot of work to do to address the income and wealth gaps and make sure our community can thrive in the future of Seattle,” said Garrett. “Creating pathways to the creative and innovation economy sectors by cultivating and connecting the genius and entrepreneurial spirit in our community to resources and opportunity is key. We look forward to working with the city and many partners to remove systemic barriers and build the solutions we need in order to have a viable community in Seattle.”
Jack Russillo has been reporting in Western Washington since 2013. He covers the environment, social justice, and other topics that affect a sustainable and equitable future. He currently lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured image: The former Seattle Fire Station 6 will eventually become the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation. (Photo: Jack Russillo)