Land Conservancies Enter Unfamiliar Territory: the City

The cranes are on the march in Tukwila, Washington, a Seattle suburb of 20,000 people not far from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. You can see the telltale signs of the metro region’s construction boomalong International Boulevard, where a gleaming new library marks a city-led mixed-use project in an area that just a few years ago was best known as a drug trafficking hub. North of the construction stands an aging 60-room Knights Inn motel that’s ripe for redevelopment. The property changed hands in January, but the new buyer isn’t some teardown-eager developer who plans on building condos for the city’s burgeoning population of young tech workers; rather, it’s a land conservancy more accustomed to preserving rural farms and forests.

Forterra, a land trust that operates throughout Washington State, paid $3 million for the property, utilizing a new fund dedicated solely to urban projects. The eventual beneficiary will be the Abu Bakr Islamic Community Center across the street, a hub for the neighborhood’s growing Somali community. I toured the hotel with Abdirisak Ahmed, the center’s director. Two buildings up front will eventually hold 30 or so storefronts for entrepreneurs who currently face rising rents elsewhere in the city. “Back there”—he points to a two-story building at the rear of the property—“will be apartments for refugees and newcomers.”

Ahmed envisions a $6 million affordable housing complex in the coming years, and a commercial sector teeming with the independent shops run primarily by immigrant women in Washington’s mostdiverse city. But for now, he’s hoping to have residents and tenants in the existing hotel by the end of the year.

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Kate McCartyenvironment