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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Freak Out (Yet)

posted by on October 17 at 8:37 AM

Yes, yes, the Oddfellows Hall—home of the Century Ballroom, Velocity Dance Center, Freehold, two well-loved fringe theaters, and bunches of arts organizations and non-profits—has been sold.

Or is about to be sold. Or something.

Neither the current nor the future owners have returned our calls, but rumor says it’s pretty much a done deal (pending one small legal matter, allegedly about property lines, that should be resolved within days if it isn’t already).

Those rumors have been breathless and panicked, as members of the aforementioned arts organizations and nonprofits have wondered if their beautiful old brick building will be torn down to build a stack of ugly—if lucrative—condo units.

The panic is premature. According to current tenants like Kara O’Toole, executive director of Velocity, the current owners have said repeatedly that they don’t want to sell to anyone who will annihilate its spirit and current community function.

Another good omen—the purported buyer is one Mr. Ted Schroth, developer of the Trace Lofts, admired for its smart blend of preservation and renovation.

And one of Schroth’s development collaborators, Liz Dunn, was described in our Political Genius Shortlist this year as “our kind of developer… rather than gutting existing urban shops and stores and shoehorning in awkward condo developments, Dunn’s kind of development… fits in and brings more life to the street.”

Of course, Schroth can buy the building and do whatever he wants, but if his record is any indication, he’ll do some tasteful renovation, overhaul the retail on the first floor, add some residential floors up top, and let well-loved community organizations (Century Ballroom, Velocity) stay.

Isn’t that what a smart developer would do?

(In other not-terrible news for arts spaces in Seattle: Jim Kelly of 4Culture says the county has made an offer on the Washington Hall at 14th and Fir—former home of On the Boards, current home of the Sons of Haiti, an African-American Masonic lodge. Kelly says the SoH hasn’t answered yet, but he’s confident they can make a deal “Either we’re going to save some of these buildings to help preserve some of the independent arts in Seattle,” he says, “or we’re going to have to face the consequences.”)

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What consequences, Kelly? Do explain.

Posted by Mr. Poe | October 17, 2007 8:53 AM

You know, once upon a time, they used to have decent RAWK shows there. Whatever happened to that?

Posted by BillyBob | October 17, 2007 9:03 AM

The consequences, Mr. Poe, would be a further loss of small, affordable arts venues throughout the city, exacerbating an erosion of the overall arts scene, as small-budget organizations get pushed farther out of the central core, to where they can still afford to rent and renovate old, underutilized building stock.

Or at least that would be my read on it.

Posted by COMTE | October 17, 2007 9:19 AM


Posted by Mr. Poe | October 17, 2007 9:28 AM

That was a million years ago, BillyBob, when the building stood practically empty. I saw a ton of punk shows there in the 70s. The legendary Bird was there for a while after they got kicked out of Pioneer Square. All those California punk bands used to play there -- Screamers, Crime, Dils. I believe it was at a Crime show that the heel came off my Chelsea boot and I then stomped on the foot of a poor gal dancing next to me. For this crime I now suffer from a variety of foot ailments.

Posted by Fnarf | October 17, 2007 9:29 AM

@5: OUCH! Sorry to hear that.

Posted by BillyBob | October 17, 2007 9:45 AM

This is good news, if it will lead to more condo development. My girlfriend and I, and Bandit (our Dalmation) love our new Capitol Hill condo, and we hope other young couples will locate in the neighborhood.

Now, if we could only get a Starbucks in this neighborhood, we would be estatic. Starbucks matches our contemporary urban lifestyle.

It's great to see this underutilized neighborhood being transformed into a vibrant urban village. These old building were cool at one time, but it's time to change, and become more like Vancouver.

Posted by Urban Living is da bomb | October 17, 2007 9:58 AM

Well, Mr. Poe, if you're a small-budget non-profit or struggling independent artist, then yeah, losing affordable spaces can be pretty scary.

Posted by COMTE | October 17, 2007 10:12 AM

Billybob, if you can't handle your foot being stapled to the floor every once and a while, you're not punk rock.

Posted by Fnarf | October 17, 2007 10:12 AM

I'm sure it is. Right now I'm more concerned with affordable housing for people than affordable spaces for independent artists. Do they go hand in hand? Kind of. But not really.

Posted by Mr. Poe | October 17, 2007 10:21 AM

First, the building could be designated as a city Landmark. If people are willing to spend time defending the building there's almost no way a developer could tear it down.

Second, maybe artists will have to start looking at different venues. I've often thought that underutilized strip shopping malls in the older suburbs could make interesting performance or studio spaces. Old K-marts and abandoned Fred Meyers could be the lofts of the 21st century.

Posted by Sstarr | October 17, 2007 10:27 AM

Thank you for finally running something on this. My fear about this sale has never been that the building would be torn down, but that it would be renovated for condos. I don't see how the current major tenants (Velocity, Century, Freehold) could stay with residences added. Keeping those organizations there during renovation would be challenging enough, but realistically I don't see any residents willing to pay what will surely be high rates who will tolerate the constant in and out of artists in their building, and the noise that comes with having active dance and acting studios, as well as a bar and restaurant that frequently holds live music shows. And don't think for a minute that the Block Party will be able to happen right outside the building anymore if it becomes residential.

The development in the Pike/Pine corridor over the past year or two has been alarming, to say the least. But for me as an artist in the city, this sounds like a complete disaster.

Thanks for the silver lining about 4Culture offering to buy the old OTB space, though. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

ps Any bets on how long before someone buys the building the Comet is in? Prime location, lots of square footage - perfect for young professionals who want to feel close to that darling Seattle nightlife we hear so much about!

Posted by genevieve | October 17, 2007 11:36 AM


That's good - in theory. But, most of the artists I'm talking about don't NEED, and in fact, couldn't use 200,000 ft sq empty warehouse-sized buildings - and couldn't afford to pay for that much square footage, even if offered at well below market-rate.

Not to mention the fact that, when we're talking performance venues, it sort of helps to have them where there are enough people within a given radius to be able to reach them.

Not that suburbs don't have the population density to do that, but then you're making people have to travel some distance to get to the venue (although granted, parking isn't probably going to be a problem), which in these environmentally-conscious days isn't a terribly efficient use of precious natural resources.

And as for the urban strip malls, unless they have a least 15' high ceilings, they're not terribly practical for visual and theatre artists, who need that height either to maximize natural light in the case of the former, or to provide clearance for lighting equipment in the case of the latter. That's one important reason why artists tend to gravitate to older buildings, because of the higher ceilings.

Posted by COMTE | October 17, 2007 12:01 PM

I hear ya about affordable housing, Mr. Poe. But since when do developers have that in mind for Capitol Hill. All I see are the constant condo conversions, just making affordable housing harder to find as all of the rental prices skyrocket.

Posted by marigold | October 17, 2007 12:32 PM

@11 - artists have been looking at alternative spaces for years. The problem is that the spaces need to be in the city, not suburbs. You won't get audiences to come out of the city, unless you've got some sort of designated arts compound like Fort Worden (and really, it's been years since I've bothered to make that trek). But hey, if the QFC space at the north end of broadway had been available (and affordable), I am certain artists would have gladly used it.

What is sorely needed is more property owners like Anne Michaels, owner of the Winston Building (home of the Wildrose) and the building housing Annex Theater's new space, among others. Her long term commitment to this area, to artists, and to small businesses is exceptional. Liz Dunn is a relatively benign developer, but she's still creating condos that the people who arleady live here aren't likely to be able to afford.

Posted by genevieve | October 17, 2007 12:54 PM


Which is why I'm not going to concern myself with affordable spaces for independent artists right now.

Posted by Mr. Poe | October 17, 2007 1:03 PM

Not to make light of the situation (let's all face it the building is going to get torn down or renovated to "mixed-use") but has anyone noticed how the development wave is getting closer and closer to the Stranger offices? Now they have invaded Cap. Hill to be a block away from ECB, David, Dan and all the rest.....

Will the Stranger put up barricades? Tie themselves to the front door in protest?

Posted by Just Me | October 17, 2007 1:53 PM

Hasn't Dan said a few times that he wants to move the Stranger offices downtown? Even if not, I think it would be more consistent for the staff to hang a big "Develop Me!!" banner out their window.

Posted by genevieve | October 17, 2007 2:21 PM

Today's young couples (including some gays and lesbians, as long as they are attractive) crave upscale ammenities, such as stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and marble bathrooms. It's both edgy and comforting.

Parking is important also. My girlfriend and I both work downtown, but we drive separate cars. I have to drop off and pick up Bandit (our Dalmation) from Doggy Daycare, so I need the Highlander. My girlfriend is afraid to walk to work, because of all the freaks on Capitol Hill, so she takes the Range Rover. These cars are much too expensive to risk parking on the street, so underground parking is much more of a necessity than an amenity.

Contemporary urban living is not just buzzwords. It's a lifetyle mantra. I mean, it's cool that there are gay bars and stuff like that on the hill - My girlfriend and I know this really fierce drag queen - but we kind of feel like that stuff is better off in places like Kent.

Posted by Urban Living is da bomb | October 17, 2007 4:50 PM

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