Black-owned businesses are reanchoring in the Central District
The Central District has long been recognized as the heart of Seattle’s Black community. The historic neighborhood has taken steps in recent years to address the effects of gentrification and the displacement of Black residents who once called the area home. Now, Black art and commerce are combining in a new, inclusive space that already has afforded the owner of one business the chance to become a property owner.
The project centers around a large property called Midtown Square, located in the heart of the Central District. The property is a mixed-use development, with 432 apartments, 28,000 square feet of retail and a public square of 18,000 square feet. The exterior of the building is something of a local landmark, since it features distinctive murals created by Black artists.
One of the anchor retail residents is a nonprofit called Arte Noir, which showcases Black art and artists. It was originally a digital publication, but it partnered with the Onyx Fine Art Collective to create a gallery for Black artists to share their work.
While Arte Noir’s location in Midtown Square seems like an obvious choice, the nonprofit had an unusual request for their residency: rather than renting the space, they wanted to own it. By purchasing their space in Midtown Square, Arte Noir’s founders will be able to reclaim a piece of this historic neighborhood and take steps toward the reparative wealth building that is long overdue for many residents of the Central District. It also provides stability and meets a promise made by Midtown Square’s owners, Lake Union Partners, to bring Black-owned businesses back to the area.
Although it is highly unusual for an income-producing building to split its ownership, Lake Union Partners agreed to the terms. Arte Noir is paying $2 million for its 3,228-square-foot space. Founder Vivienne Phillips is tapping into her community resources to finance the transaction, having raised $4.6 million for the purchase, future improvements and ongoing operations of the nonprofit.
Additionally, Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative has granted Art Noire $1.5 million, and the nonprofit will also likely receive $750,000 from Washington’s Building for the Arts fund. This government assistance is viewed by many as a form of racial justice, as it was restrictive housing covenants that initially led to so many Black residents struggling to attain home ownership and generational wealth.
Arte Noir is currently the only tenant of Midtown Square that has been offered a chance to buy their space, but other Black-owned businesses in the building said they would purchase their spaces if the opportunity was presented to them. In time, Arte Noir may become one of many Black businesses that were able to reclaim their space and their neighborhood.