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Crib Notes
By Joe Nabbefeld

May 14, 2015

Crib Notes: Creative Class is annexing 23rd & Union

Special to the Journal

Cities change. And change. And change. That's the only constant: change.

Especially cities in the American West. They're still teenagers, growing Adam's apples and trying on all manner of trends. From teepees to condo towers. Particularly the West Coast tech meccas, flush with fresh Amazonians, Microsofties, Googles, barristas, Italian waiters and Creative Classers. Grow, grow, grow.

Change doesn't make all of us winners. Somebody's ox gets gored. Haves and have-nots. That's front-of-mind as we plunge into a look at all the fantastic changes washing through 23rd and Union, in the heart of the Central District.

That place is poppin' and hoppin'. Finally. Even with that unpleasant pot shop.

As a nearby homeowner of 19 years who likes to walk to dinner, walk to lattes and walk to walk, I couldn't be more delighted.

The upscaling 23rd and Union will become part of “Capitol Hill” (not the CD). It's being annexed by the Creative Class.

Image by studio216 [enlarge]
At the southwest corner of the 23rd and Union intersection, Lake Union Partners is building 92 apartments above retail and 74 underground parking stalls.

A 24-year-old, hard-working, hip hop-performing woman named Gifted Gab isn't so delighted.

“I was born and raised in the Central District, and over the course of less than 10 years it's become unrecognizable. A lot of the mom-and-pop businesses, and a majority of the black-owned businesses, are gone,” Gifted Gab said in an April interview with Joseph Sutton-Holcomb on Crosscut.com. “The area on 23rd and Union Street is in danger of being bought by big-time executives,” Gifted Gab said.

So Sutton-Holcomb asked her: “How would you like the city to change, and how do you see your art and your peers' art playing a role in that?”

“They have a 20-year plan for how Seattle's going to look, called Seattle 2035 (http://2035.Seattle.gov),” Gifted Gab responded. “But talking to people who have been to meetings, the black people, the artists, the minorities, the people at the lower end of the totem pole, they aren't a part of it.

“I remember Capitol Hill,” she said. “It's unrecognizable compared to back in the day. There are all these useless stores now.”

Well, 23rd and Union might be affordable again someday. (Remember: change keeps coming!) But probably not anytime soon. Those days are gone. Replaced by $2,500-per-month apartments, $11 craft beers and $4 lattes.

Here's an image: South of the Casey Family's big brick Seattle field office on 23rd there's a rough little wood building that for decades was the Gold Exchange. We went in there 18 years ago. In addition to pawning gold items, the business sold cigarettes, knives and who knows what else. But you couldn't touch a product. The shopkeeper sat behind bars and a thick glass sheet, with a round hole for talking and a slot at the bottom to slide things through. It was like visiting a super-paranoid bank. Slide in money, and out slide butts.

Today? The Gold Exchange sign remains (see, not all grit is removed). But the structure has a fresh coat of aqua paint on the exterior and a second sign. Note that author Richard Florida labeled gays the “canaries of the Creative Class.” Where gays go, an economic upturn will follow. So the new sign says: “Centre Hermanos, Seattle's Latino LGBTQ Center.”

Images abound. On the northeast corner of the intersection is a little fast-food-style building that over the years was the site of shootings and an arson. Today it houses Uncle Ike's head shop (where you buy glass pot pipes), and there's a neon sign saying “Get your pot across the lot” directing people to a separate little structure in back where one buys legal recreational marijuana. Maybe all that mellowness will break the shooting trend line.

Uncle Ike's didn't earn any karma points for not telling the church that's about 4 feet to its north that it was coming, even though the church extended favors during construction.

Here's another image: At the southwest corner Lake Union Partners is about to top out a new structure with 92 apartments above retail and 74 underground parking stalls. (South Lake Union Partners recently finished 19th & Mercer on Capitol Hill that houses Linda Derschang's trendy Tallulah's Restaurant.) So this glam structure at 23rd and Union joyfully fills the spot where there once was a makeshift mosque that was allegedly involved with funding jihad training in Oregon.

Superstar Derschang is consulting on the restaurant space there.

The next image: Lake Union Partners plans to build more of same on the northwest corner. This will replace not only the tired, oversized gas station but also the inspiring, spunky Cappy's Gym, which has a lot more going on athletically than just boxing.

Yet another image: Not all of this will be high end. The nonprofit low-income housing provider Capitol Hill Housing has joined the game with plans to build 40 to 60 affordable units at 24th and Union, where Key Bank occupied the former headquarters of the minority-owned Liberty Bank.

This leaves one more corner: the southeast. That's where a black activist clocked former Seattle Mayor Paul Schell on the head with a megaphone. The post office has largely closed, replaced by an indoor golf spot called Smash Putt. The liquor store remains, now privatized. The quirky Umojafest occupies the south end of the block.

The owner of the nearly 1-acre southeast corner, Tom Bangasser, has approached the city for an upzone from 40 to 65 feet, and been told that can happen but not until there's a specific proposal for the site involving an experienced developer.

That'll happen.

There's already been development action west of 23rd on Union, which still has plenty of cool things going on with a bustling Chuck's Hop Shop (a beer mart that allows dogs and kids), Central Cinema's dinner and movie theater (which shows free cartoons for families from 5:30 to 7 p.m. weekdays), 20-20 bikes, pilates, a nonprofit radio station, Ethiopian restaurants and Meteor music school in an old house.

Bring on the change. Gifted Gab will have to sell a few well-penned hip hop songs; then she can take one of those new Lake Union Partners' apartments.

Joe Nabbefeld is a Realtor with Windermere Capitol Hill. You can reach him at www.RealSolutions.biz. He was the DJC's commercial real estate editor back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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