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Artists Are Taking Over The Empty Capitol Hill Value Village (For Now)

Capitol Hill has more artists and arts groups per capita than any almost any other Seattle neighborhood. Now some of those artists have a new place to work, at least temporarily.

Last month city officials announced that the vacant Value Village store in the Pike-Pine corridor would re-open as V2 Arts Space under the management of Velocity Dance Center. 

The nonprofit arts producer One Reel will rent an office in the building, as will the Capitol Hill Arts District. Artists will be able to lease space for rehearsals, performances and exhibitions.

The V2 announcement came as welcome news to a neighborhood where soaring real estate prices have pushed out many nonprofits and low income residents, as well as some of the businesses that catered to them.

“Only a very specific segment [of Capitol Hill’s new population] can afford the $2,000 one-bedroom apartments here,” says Matthew Richter, cultural facilities liaison for Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture.

According to Richter, Capitol Hill’s population has quintupled in recent years. Most of that influx has come from affluent young professionals drawn to Seattle’s growing technology industry.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Old Value Village Building in the 1930s.", "fid": "124543", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201603/20160307-Velocity-building-1937.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of Washington State Archives Puget Sound Branch"}]]To help address the problem, in 2014 Seattle designated Capitol Hill the city’s first official arts district. The city helped fund signage and pushed for special public-safety measures. But V2 is the first large new arts space to open in the neighborhood since the arts district’s creation.

The building’s owner, Bellevue-based developer Legacy, agreed to a six-month, below market-rate lease with an option to renew. Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture kicked in $20,000 to make the deal happen.

V2 is, in part, a product of Capitol Hill’s history.

The 1918 building originally housed the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck company. Sixty years later it was home to one of outdoor gear giant REI’s first retail outlets.

Legacy wants to transform the building into a taller, mixed used retail/office complex, but last year Seattle’s Landmarks Board voted unanimously to declare the building a historic landmark. That designation means that Legacy must submit any redevelopment plans to the board for its approval. The timeline for permit approval is unclear.

[asset-images[{"caption": "V2 Dance Studio", "fid": "124544", "style": "offset_left", "uri": "public://201603/v2_by_cait_wyler.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of Velocity Dance Center/Cait Wyler"}]]After Value Village decided to vacate the 30,000 square foot building last fall, the space was going to sit empty indefinitely. That’s when the Capitol Hill Arts District steering committee stepped in, according to Velocity Dance Center artistic director Tonya Lockyer.

“The idea of artists being displaced right now from this neighborhood,” says Lockyer, “and this incredible space sitting here empty, a void amidst all that displacement. It was like, this just can’t happen!”

Lockyer is particularly happy about the building’s third floor, a 6,000 square foot open space with a hardwood floor.

“It’s dance heaven!” she enthuses. “All we’ve done is paint the walls white.”

V2 won’t open officially until later this spring. Lockyer is optimistic that the lease will be extended at least once while the developer moves through the permitting process.

Although V2 is only temporary, cultural facilities liaison Richter wonders if it can be a prototype for how commercial developers can work with arts organizations across town as Seattle grows.

“How can you take the excitement around this temporary pop-up and use that to leverage a more permanent situation in the development that is coming?” he asks.

[asset-images[{"caption": "V2 Dance Studio", "fid": "124545", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201603/img_1550_photo_by_dylan_ward.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of Velocity Dance Center/Dylan Ward"}]]For decades, artists have moved into dilapidated neighborhoods and created a hip buzz. Commercial development follows that buzz. Ultimately, the artists are priced out of the areas they helped to gentrify.

Richter hopes V2 will help convince investors and builders to work with the arts community to forge another path.

"When we talk about mixed use, the arts can be part of that mix."

Capitol Hill's V2 Arts Space opens to the public later this spring.