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Transforming a defunct gas station into a community space

Minimart City Park will activate a long-vacant corner store in Georgetown

Courtesy of goCstudio and SuttonBeresCuller.

Here’s one way to activate a plot of urban ruins in your neighborhood: turn it into a park. A group of local artists are doing just that with an abandoned gas station and minimart in Georgetown. The aptly-named Mini Mart City Park is set to open in summer 2018.

An archive photo of the gas station—back when it was still a gas station.

The location is appropriate: It’s just two blocks from the Hat and Boots in Oxbow Park, another relic from a long-defunct filling station.

Artist collaborative SuttonBeresCuller (SBC) notes that there are 700 similar gas stations in the Puget Sound area alone. With this project, they and architecture and design firm goCstudio “seek to explore the potential of art as a way to heal an urban problem while simultaneously creating a shared, multi-use culture and community space.”

The structure, built in the 30s, served as a gas station for around five decades, and spent some time as a drycleaners. It’s been vacant for the past eight years.

Renderings for the park show a small amount of green space and the structure, the roof converted into a rooftop terrace. The overhang that covers the gas pumps—the vintage pumps are still there—reads “Mini Mart City Park” in bold, capitalized type wrapping around the edge.

Inside, the 1,100-square-foot minimart is transformed into a community center, shown here as with a gallery exhibition inside. The space was pitched to design review as a “flexible gathering space,” frequently used for “arts-oriented exhibitions.”

It’ll be open regularly during the day but occasionally will host evening events and meetings.

While it’s not currently an actual city park in the truest sense of the word—it’s not part of Parks and Recreation—the project received $100,000 from the city’s Neighborhood Matching Funds program and $200,000 from King County program 4Culture. Other grants have come from the Seattle Foundation, Georgetown Community Council, Allied Arts, and other neighborhood, culture, and environmental groups.

The rest of the funds from the project have come from fundraising, including selling canned dirt from the site. So far, they’ve sold around 500 cans “roughly 0.0000936% of the dirt we have left,” they tell us—at $25 a pop.

But the idea isn’t to create a temporary park. The collaborative, which formed as a nonprofit for the purpose of buying the land, has been working on this project since 2008, and expect the park to hold that ground for years to come.

We asked about how the park will stay running in the long term. Would it be a public-private partnership? Will the nonprofit take over operations for the forseeable future, like how the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) owns and maintains the Olympic Sculpture Park?

John Sutton of SBC acknowledges that there’s not one model for the park moving forward, but they hope they can pave the way for similar projects in the future.

“The Mini Mart City Park is a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and operating the park and community center and aims to serve as a model for how similar sites can be developed,” Sutton told us over email. “Over the years there have been many conversations about how best to plan for the long term stewardship of the project. The nonprofit was formed to develop, operate and maintain the project all the while pursuing various options for public/private partnerships. SAM and the Olympic Sculpture Park is a great analogy.”

He said they’re hopeful that at some point, SAM and Seattle Parks can become long-term partners on this project, too.

An earlier version of this story mistakenly noted that there were 70,000 similar gas stations in the Puget Sound. That number is a much more realistic 700.