Central District business owners fight to save enclave of black-owned businesses

SEATTLE — Donald King of the Union Street Business Owners Association says that black-owned businesses are disappearing from the Central District.

“Not only does that erase, actually, businesses and residents but it begins to erase the actual history and heritage,” said King.

New apartments are being constructed on one corner at 23rd and Union more new development is planned for another corner. King and other business owners fear a developer will buy up the property where Midtown Center sits and drive out all of the businesses.

“I’m afraid of we will lose our ability to thrive in this area,” said Jesdarnel Henton, who is planning to re-open Ms. Helen’s Soul Food Restaurant in the Midtown Center with her mother. Henton added, “Every pocket of this beautiful city has its own history and its own charm and the central area is no exception to that.”

Ms. Helen’s was a staple in the area for decades. It closed after the Nisqually earthquake damaged the building it was housed in.

“It was the place to be,” said Henton.

With the development boom, King says the area is losing a lot of its character fast.

“To me it’s personal as a black business owner, and as an advocate for black businesses,” said King. T

om Bangasser says his family has owned the 106,000-square-foot parcel for nearly 70 years. Over the years, he’s had many offers to sell it but he wants to make sure he does the right thing. That’s why he’s open to the idea of letting the Union Street Business Association take control of the property for 10 percent of the property’s selling price.

“What we call the 10 percent solution -- that’s a buy-in of 10 percent, an investment of 10 percent of the property -- there would be a chance to have site control of the property,” said King.

He hopes that by taking control of the property, businesses could attract investors by showcasing the property’s potential.

“An angel would be great. It would be best if we had time to build a collection of investors from the community,” said King.

Bangasser said the idea is in its very early stages. He wouldn’t say how much he would sell the property for.

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