By Kristin Bentley

After conducting eight meetings for public feedback on a large mixed-use project in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood, Vulcan Real Estate went before the city’s design review board Tuesday evening for an early guidance design meeting. The board requested that some changes be made to the project and it be brought before them again before moving forward and applying for a master use permit.

In order to celebrate the unique character of Central District’s neighborhood, the design plan for the 3.64 acre parcel, located at 2309 South Jackson Street, is to connect with its rich African American history and culture through retail, public space and cultural artwork from local artists. “We’re very focused on sustainability and community engagement,” said Pete Aparico, the real estate development manager for Vulcan. “This is certainly both a unique neighborhood and community, and through the design process we’ve sought to honor that character,” added Brian Runberg of Runberg Architecture Group.

Our expectation for this community is that Vulcan will model a very different way of developing in the city of Seattle

However, after the design team presented the 570-residential-unit project, of which 113 units will be affordable, there were some concerned Central District residents who voiced their worries that the large project would not blend in well with the rich culture of the neighborhood. They expressed that they weren’t yet convinced that the project would appeal to the African American community’s heritage. The board supported these concerns saying that artwork wasn’t enough of a connection, and that the design team needs to work on incorporating more prominent community ties.

Members of the Historic Central Area Arts & Cultural District (HCAAC) voiced an opinion that they too were looking forward to moving ahead with its partnership with Vulcan. The group believes that the project’s opportunities for artists are ones for which it advocates, and in this regard it welcomes the project and its potential with the 12,000 square feet of public and community space. However, HCAAC also expressed a few concerns, one being that the project offers needed jobs into the community. “For many in the black community it is about ownership. It is great that we’re talking about affordability, but it is also about wealth,” said Tyrone Brown, co-secretary for the organization.

“It’s good to hear about the micro-businesses, but there is an opportunity for Vulcan to be a model developer in relation to members of the community having ownership,” added Brown. “Our expectation for this community is that Vulcan will model a very different way of developing in the city of Seattle.”

In deliberation the board recommended to the design team that the project come down vertically in size in order to blend better into the neighborhood, as well as improve cultural references. The board acknowledged that the community wants a relationship with the project through jobs, retail of interest and the organization of the public spaces. “Obviously there’s been a lot of outreach to the community and a lot of work on complex issues for a very large site,” said board member Julian Weber.

Seattle-based Vulcan Real Estate directs all real estate investment activities for Vulcan Inc., founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 1986. It manages nearly $2 billion in real estate assets and has delivered 6.5 million square feet into the Seattle area, with a total of 29 office, biotech, residential and mixed-use projects that are primarily in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Vulcan has 208 apartment units under construction in the University District and approximately 1,882 units to be delivered into Seattle’s housing market by 2019. It is also in pre-development planning for 650 units on three sites in the Yesler Terrace neighborhood.

Seattle-based Runberg Architecture Group specializes in sustainable mixed-use residential and commercial developments. Some other projects it has worked on include Stack House Apartments in the South Lake Union/Cascade neighborhood and Odin Apartments in the Ballard neighborhood.