Photo depicting the brick exterior firehouse exterior of Byrd Barr Place.

The Central District’s Byrd Barr Place Expands Programming in a Renovated Historic Space

by Ronnie Estoque

Byrd Barr Place has served the Central District community since the 1960s. The organization’s recent renovation of the historical building Firehouse No. 23 at 722 18th Ave is allowing them to return to the space with increased programming capacity, which includes food and energy and housing assistance as well as financial tools to more than 1,100 households every week.

“While we were doing our renovations, our temporary locations were spread out, we had our Market working out of a location in Capitol Hill, and then all of our other programs and our administrative side working out of SoDo,” Tafari Maynard, Byrd Barr Place’s director of operations, said. “No longer having that distance makes everybody really happy and excited to get back together.”

Byrd Barr Place renamed their food bank to “The Market,” which allows clients to select the food items they want during their visits. Maynard says that they tried to give it a “grocery store aesthetic.”

“We’re trying to lean away from the kind of food bank stigma where folks line up, they don’t have options,” Maynard said. “We really wanted to make it so people had a place to lounge while they waited for access.”

  • Close-up photo depicting green cucumbers and green peppers in a grocery-like plastic black display bin.
  • Photo depicting a group of clients browsing The Market's produce wares. The blue wall with white text that reads, "Good stuff always" is painted above the bins.

The building’s renovation also features several community spaces that clients can access during their visit. According to Byrd Barr Place’s CEO Andrea Cauapin Sanderson, the acquisition of the building took nearly 10 years of discussions with the City. 

The Byrd Barr Place board had initially discussed how renting the property made their business unstable, as the City had refused to do a long-term lease. Originally Byrd Barr Place had requested for a multiyear lease, which eventually evolved into discussions around ownership.

“Finally, the mayor and City Council agreed to transfer the building during the fall of 2020. We had legal representation working with the City’s legal team to move the transfer forward and the actual transfer occurred in November of 2020 after City Council approval,” Sanderson said. “Many told us it wasn’t possible, to get it from the grips of the City of Seattle, to raise the required $12.8 million to complete the needed renovations and to actually get the renovations done during the midst of the pandemic.”

  • Photo depicting black-and-white historical photo panels detailing the life of Roberta Byrd Barr. In large white text the words, "Opportunity," "Truth," and "Equity" are displayed towards the bottom of each panel. Underneath the white text is blue text that reads, "Educator," "Storyteller," and "Activist."
  • Photo depicting the produce shelves and bins of The Market. A blue wall with illustrations of produce and white text that reads, "Good stuff always" is painted above the bins.

Byrd Barr Place was able to raise money for the renovations through a combination of loans, tax credits, grants, and donations. Though they were unsuccessful in obtaining funding at the federal level, Byrd Barr Place was successful at the State and City level. They also collaborated with several other nonprofits in the Rise Together Capital Campaign to build the capacity to raise funds from private sources. 

“We had a team of high wealth individuals who came together to leverage their networks and their own dollars to ensure this was fully funded,” Sanderson said.

According to Sanderson, 42% of Byrd Barr Place’s current clients are Black. The nonprofit also serves a large immigrant and refugee population within the Seattle city limits who are at or below the federal poverty level. 

“[Our clients] range from seniors, people with disabilities, people with young children, and those who are chronically ill,” Sanderson said. “We’re seeing an increase in people new to poverty; they have college degrees and have had a way to take care of themselves financially but, after the pandemic, lost their resources.”

Maynard also expressed excitement by the return of original clients and community members to the renovated space. He also acknowledged that the racial demographics of the historically Black Central District has vastly shifted due to gentrification and that Byrd Barr Place is a “staple of the Black community in Seattle.”

“That’s kind of what gets me up is to be able to come and join the legacy of a fight that I consider myself to be a part of … [Byrd Barr Place] was born in the civil rights movement, and I still consider us to be a civil rights organization. To be a part of that is humbling and something that I’m really proud of.”

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Byrd Barr Place is now operating with increased programming capacity after its recent building renovation in the Central District. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

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