Story & photos by Tracy Record and Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
Last month, we brought you the story of a walking tour in South Park, organized by community advocate Jeff Hayes, who has been relentlessly working to get the city to help with SP trouble spots. Toward the start of the tour, he gathered those in attendance, including City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, outside a prime cluster of commercial buildings on the southwest corner of the busiest intersection in South Park – 14th Avenue South/South Cloverdale [map] – to point out that the storefronts were mostly empty and under ownership that wasn’t doing much to change things.
Turns out, that ownership was in the process of changing. And we have since heard from one of the new owners, a West Seattleite who already has bought and renovated property in two neighborhoods – Luna Park and Georgetown. John Bennett bought the South Park corner buildings in partnership with Scott Horrell, proprietor of nearby Loretta’s Northwesterner, and Hank Dufour, a construction-company proprietor.
Bennett invited us to come tour the buildings, which they have been cleaning out, and are seeking tenants for.
He explained that he found out about the buildings during a Historic Seattle meeting at Loretta’s. He and another historic-preservation advocate “walked down here with tears in our eyes,” because the buildings were at the time, he said, under contract to a developer and slated for redevelopment.
That included the circa-1927 South Park Hall building, whose upstairs interior – the “hall” – is something far beyond what its exterior hints at. Here’s a mural just inside its entrance:
A week or so after that sad walk, Bennett continued, he checked on the buildings’ status and learned that the deal had fallen through. The buildings actually had become bank-owned, he said, and the rest is … history.
Horrell, who joined us mid-tour, has property in Georgetown, as does Bennett, and they have partnered with Dufour “kind of doing the same things” in South Park that they did there.
As of our tour last week, they have one tenant who will be reopening in a storefront facing 14th – a café – and two other storefronts to lease.
Then there’s the building right on the corner, mostly fronting Cloverdale, which dates to 1904, and has two upstairs apartments. For the ground floor, “we’re really looking for the right tenant,” a business that’s “going to change everything” and revitalize the corner, Bennett said.
Small local businesses are what they’re looking for, by the way, not chains.
Meantime, the cleanup operation was continuing even as we visited last Thursday. As of that point, Bennett had tallied, “24 tons of trash, 14 dead cars – cars we didn’t even know were there – couple dozen dead rats.”
They had taken 8 tons of metal to Recycle Depot in Georgetown, too. But they still have to resolve pre-existing problems with the health department and Construction and Inspections; the latter gave them two months to get things “in shape,” Bennett said.
Horrell – who opened Loretta’s a decade ago – joined the tour as we headed upstairs to look at the hall – a huge space with a stage, a maple floor, and a kitchen.
Bennett was talking about “the soul of the building.” They’re hoping to keep the upstairs as an “event space.”
They stressed that the purchases aren’t investments to flip. Horrell runs Loretta’s a couple doors down, and he lives three blocks away: “I’m vested in this neighborhood. I’m not going anywhere.” Bennett joked that after renovating old buildings in two other districts, “this is my swan song.” The cleanup has brought some extra costs, like $4,000 to get those “dead cars” towed.
Again recalling his first look at the buildings, and sadness at the thought that South Park Hall might be demolished, he told the story of his early business venture in Luna Park, an antique store called Jukebox City, “25, 30 years ago,” originally in the building that’s now Shack Coffee. He eventually wound up buying the building that’s now home to his Luna Park Café, which at the time, he said, had a tavern that had to be booted for nonpayment of rent, and, he said, he built the restaurant when he couldn’t find anybody to rent the space.
Speaking of renting … the talk turns back to their search for tenants for the South Park buildings.
If interested, you can e-mail email@example.com or call 206-240-5191 – but, Bennett insists, they want businesses, not people seeking storage or other uses that wouldn’t enliven the spaces. When they find those tenants, he reiterated, “It’s going to help the neighborhood.” He’s hoping to see something like what he appreciates in Georgetown – “you can walk down Airport Way and see business owners out sweeping … it’s like Mayberry, such a tight community.”
(P.S. One note related to our mention of last month’s walking tour – the partnership now owns the commercial buildings, not any of the houses to the west, aside from one sliver of vacant single-family-zoned land abutting the . We’ll be following up soon with Hayes and the city to see if anything has changed with those parcels.