Advocacy Group Challenges Trump-Style Real Estate Discrimination Policies in Seattle
Last Friday – March 10th – all hell broke loose in Seattle’s Central District.
On that day, Black Dot – a business incubator and economic development center providing technical assistance to African American-owned and operated businesses and microenterprises – got the shock of its life, when representatives of Midtown Center Partnership (owners of Midtown Center, Black Dot’s current headquarters) attempted to illegally evict the organization from its temporary location at 1160 23rd Ave.
Because Black Dot dared an attempt to force Seattle to live up to its claims as a “sanctuary city,” demanding officials put an end to the gentrification that’s turned the once predominately African American Central District into a paler, much less-recognizable version of itself – a reversal of fortune triggered by Seattle’s growing reputation as the technology hub of the Northwest.
Though African Americans have called the Central District (the “CD”) home for over 130 years, predatory real estate policies – implemented by less-than-ethical development companies eager to capitalize on Seattle’s technology boom – have almost completely erased any trace of their existence from the once-redlined area.
According to more than a few Central District residents, Midtown Center Partnership – owned by the wealthy and powerful Bangasser clan – qualifies as one among the many unethical developers laying waste to the CD.
Nonetheless, some Central District residents were still taken aback by Midtown’s seemingly out-of-nowhere desire to boot Black Dot from the building – a move they say was racially motivated.
THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
The events of Friday, March 10, 2017, were as follows:
Representatives of Midtown Center Partnership unlawfully entered Black Dot headquarters, to change the locks. Black Dot Co-founder, K. Wyking Garrett, who was on site at the time, informed the company reps that they had no legal grounds with which to evict.
When strong-arm tactics failed to yield the desired response, the representatives then shifted gears, and called the Seattle Police Department to intervene. The representatives claimed Garrett was “threatening” them, and was denying them access to the building – yet another move designed to intimidate Garrett and other Black Dot officials into complying with Midtown’s invalid order.
When SPD arrived, they informed Midtown reps that their actions were illegal, and that they couldn’t simply “decide” to evict Black Dot, without going through the proper channels.
Later that weekend, in a move that can only be interpreted as retaliation, Midtown representatives proceeded to enter Black Dot – without a court order or any other legal documentation – and began re-arranging the space.
They also removed tables, dirtied or damaged remaining furniture, and left behind trash and other debris.
On Monday, March 13, 2017, Black Dot officials held a press conference addressing the events that had transpired over that weekend.
By Wednesday, March 15, Midtown representatives returned – with dozens of Seattle Police officers in tow, once again to evict Black Dot from its headquarters.
That same day, Seattle Police were sent to “keep the peace” while an eviction of yet another Garrett, from yet another Bangasser-owned property – a building housing Umoja Peace Center, a community-based nonprofit run by Omari Tahir-Garrett, father of K. Wyking Garrett – was attempted.
Tahir-Garrett had been served with eviction papers earlier this month, according to reports.
On March 21, 2016, Tahir-Garrett filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Midtown Center Partnership, Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Light, and others for “strong racial hostility,” “engaging in ethnic cleansing,” and for violating his First Amendment rights, as a community activist.
Some believe that Black Dot’s troubles, and Tahir-Garrett’s lawsuit are not unrelated.
CUTTING OFF THE NOSE, TO SPITE THE FACE
Midtown’s actions seem like overkill, considering the circumstances. For one, Black Dot never intended for Midtown Center to be its permanent home.
If anything, Midtown Center was the place for them to “park,” while their permanent space – a decommissioned Fire Station No.6, located only a few blocks away – completes renovation.
For another, Black Dot, as part of the Africatown Community Development Initiative (“Africatown Seattle”) – an initiative designed to re-establish the Central District as the epicenter of culture, commerce, and innovation for Seattle’s Black community – gains nothing from being a less-than-ideal tenant.
Last February, Africatown and Forterra – a land conservation, stewardship and community building organization – submitted a letter of intent to purchase Midtown Center, to create both “a greater sense of inclusive development,” and to preserve what remains of the Central District, for upwards of $20 million.
The proposed Midtown Center deal closely follows Africatown Seattle’s Liberty Bank Redevelopment Project – a $30 million partnership with Black Community Impact Alliance (BCIA), Centerstone, and Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) – designed to create equitable development plans in the Central District.
Founded in 1968, Liberty Bank was the first Black-owned bank in the Pacific Northwest – located right in the heart of Seattle’s Central District.
The bank closed in 1988.
Construction on the new, multi-use building – to include 115 units earmarked for Central Area residents at risk of being displaced – will begin, later this year.
For Black Dot’s part, creating hostility with the people who own the land they’re actively seeking to buy would be the very definition of counterintuitive.
For the money involved, Midtown’s actions toward Black Dot make little sense.
However, if it’s true that – according to Garrett – the block Midtown Center sits on is the last developable site left in the City of Seattle, the heightened tensions and perceived animus on both sides could be little more than a smokescreen – a plausible excuse the Bangasser Family can use to refuse a deal they weren’t considering, in the first place.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
During Monday’s press conference, Cliff Cawthon of SAFE (Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction) said that Black Dot/Africatown Seattle had three demands:
- That Midtown Center Partnership stops all eviction proceedings
- That Midtown Center Partnership accepts Africatown’s bid to purchase Midtown Center, located at 23rd & Union, in the heart of the Central District
- That Midtown Center Partnership works with Africatown Innovation Center to create opportunities for equitable development
Whether those demands are met – especially in light of recent events – remains to be seen.
Garrett said that Midtown’s actions only serve to “highlight [the Black community’s] vulnerability to displacement.”
He further noted that if “three companies [in Seattle] can be involved in a ‘space race’” to see who’ll be first to build condos on the Moon, then it was “equally possible to create equitable development [opportunities]” for African Americans here, on Earth.
“Those who are benefitting the most [from gentrification] should be paying the most [to help fix the damage caused by it],” he said.
Editor’s Note: As this continues to be a developing story, be sure to check back for updates. -K.
Clarification: Tom Bangasser, formerly of Midtown Center Partnership, is the sole dissenting voice in the his family’s plans to help gentrify the Central District. A long-time Africatown Seattle ally, Bangasser has publicly and very candidly denounced his family’s actions. As such, any references to the Bangasser family in general do not include him, specifically.