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Development project aims to bring displaced African Americans back to Central District

caption: Rendering of Future Liberty Bank Building on 24th and Union
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Rendering of Future Liberty Bank Building on 24th and Union
Courtesy of Mithun Architects

A coalition of black community groups chose Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, for the ceremonial groundbreaking of a new affordable housing real estate project in Seattle's Central District.

June 19 is the day in 1865 when the abolition of slavery was announced in Texas.

The project has been dubbed The Liberty Bank Building to honor Seattle's former African-American-owned bank that once occupied a much smaller structure right where the new development will be built, on the corner of 24th Avenue and East Union Street. Liberty Bank folded in 1988.

Andrea Caupain, the CEO of Centerstone, one of the groups behind the project, said they want to encourage African Americans and others who've been priced out of the Central District to move back to the area, while still adhering to the city's first-come, first-serve rental rules.

"It's not going to be a situation where we’re only going to market to the African American community, or we will turn someone away who is not African American,” Caupain said. “But really, how do we dive deeper and go specific and target the African American community, people who we know want to come back to the CD?"

Caupain said that means marketing their message into black community spaces that affordable housing information often doesn't reach. She said they're also in talks with local longtime black businesses about moving into Liberty's retail space.

“We're looking at black businesses that have been in the Central Area for a long time, that have a strong desire to stay in the community. We're also looking at black businesses that maybe were here before and had a desire to continue their business, but for various different reasons including affordability could not continue,” she said.

Caupain said the work has been challenging, but the building represents a development model of inclusive efforts, with strong ties to Seattle's black community.

As one example, the building will house installations from nine different artists from the Central Area.

Centerstone has been working with Africatown, The Black Community Impact Alliance and Capitol Hill Housing on the project. Caupain said they expect to start construction later this summer.

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