Some of the fog that has hung over the Promenade 23 site in recent years has lifted somewhat. At a February 4 community meeting hosted by the Central Area Land Use Review Committee (LURC – full disclosure: the author is a co-chair), Vulcan’s design team led by Rundberg Architecture Group presented their early thinking for the shape of the re-development of the commercial land south of Jackson Street, east of 23rd Avenue. Using photographs and hand-drawn sketches, they walked the assembled crowd of over 100 interested residents through a vision of accommodating a new grocer, additional small retail, and over 500 apartments.
Many of the design moves are an undeniable improvement over the current state of affairs for this block, which by any definition is a strip mall, turning its big blank back to the residential blocks behind. The team’s treatment of the exterior spaces shows a pleasing series of outdoor spaces – one at the corner, one at the current crosswalk from Walgreen’s, and most significantly, a pedestrian route right through the heart of the site to the neighborhood to the south. At 60-feet wide, the path is the equivalent of a full city street and in fact recaptures the alignment of 24th Avenue that at one time connected the neighborhood to Jackson Street. Currently, 24th dies into a two-story block wall, the backside of Red Apple. Giving this route back to public access is serious commitment to the public good, and assuming there is adequate activity in the adjoining retail spaces, the whole ensemble of exterior plazas can contribute quite well to the community.
A trickier aspect of the redevelopment is foremost in the minds of the majority of attendees, however: affordability in the rising tide of gentrification and increased housing costs in this part of town. To many of the vocal residents assembled in the lobby of Ernestine Anderson Place, what the project looks like architecturally, or how it engages the public realm, pales in comparison to what a new development like this might do to rents throughout the area. Vulcan has offered their participation in the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) program as one gesture toward this concern. The MFTE commits a project to providing at least 20% of the units at rates affordable to a person making less than 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for 12 years. Unfortunately, that income figure is based not on just the immediate environs, but the whole of King County, and many gathered contended that this skews the rents upward.
This issue raises an interesting conundrum: is it even possible for-profit developer – a well-meaning, locally based one, with a dedicated team of caring professionals even – meet that need for affordability within a capitalist context? The answer will be a fascinating one to follow over the next year, as this project moves through design and permitting, with a construction start slated for late 2017.
On February 17, Vulcan moved one step closer along that time line when it announced it had purchased the land straddling Jackson Street, for an announced sale price of $30.9 million.
Leschi CC Board member and Co-Chair, Land Use Review Committee
Note: Vulcan will be making a presentation on this project at the next Central Area Neighborhood District Council meeting on March 10 at 6pm. at the Central Area Senior Center, 500 30th Ave. S.