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Central District Residents Deal With A Neighborhood In Flux

Simone Alicea
A few demonstrators gather outside Midtown Center in the Central District.

When it comes to issues of public safety, it's usually good for neighbors to get together and talk about it.

That's what Sara Mae thought. She owns 701 Coffee on 23rd Avenue and Cherry Street in Seattle's Central District. 

She recently held a community meeting at the shop to talk about how to make the neighborhood safer. She says there's been a recent spate of shootings, which are up citywide.

But what erupted in Mae's coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon gets at the core of what it's like to live and work in a place that has been upended by change. 

"We have to talk about these things," Mae said. "You can feel it in the air in the Central District, the tension."

Midtown Center

As people finished up their introductions, a group of people led by Wyking Garrett walked in. He and others wanted to address issues and demonstrations surrounding a certain parcel of land a few blocks north of the coffee shop.

The Midtown Center property on 23rd Avenue and Union Street has become something of a symbol of the tension surrounding growth and development in the Central District. 

The old low-rise building that sits there now is surrounded by a fancy pot shop, extensive construction and a taller, newer development.

Garrett is a leader of Africatown and Black Dot, two organizations that promote black businesses and black culture in the Central District.

"We wanted to make sure, since this was a public community meeting, that we were able to set the record straight about what is the work that we're doing," Garrett said.

Garrett is tied up in a fight over what's going to happen to the Midtown Center and who will eventually develop the property located in a historically black neighborhood that's becoming whiter and more expensive to live in.

It's not about preserving what's there in amber. Rather, it's about asking who has control over the future of the property and the future of the neighborhood.

"I thought I heard everyone in the community say that issues of violence and crime were definitely connected to economic opportunities and agency," Garrett said.

Working Together

Emotions ran high at Mae's meeting. Victoria Beach, who grew up in the Central District, says she understands why people feel so strongly about all of the changes to the neighborhood.

"I get upset; but I'm trying not to let it bother me," she said. "I want us to be able to coexist. We can't put them out. They're here."

She said this meeting lacked structure and she felt some people were there just to argue. In the end, neighbors will have to keep talking.

"I care about my community, and I want to help find solutions where we can all be together," Beach said. "We can agree to disagree, but let's try to work together."

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.