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With 12 months to vacate First Hill facility, Cherry Street Food Bank seeks a new home

Redevelopment’s been on the table for a while—but an official notice to vacate kicked the search into high gear

Courtesy of Northwest Harvest

Northwest Harvest had known this day would come for a while; a 30-story condo tower was announced for the parcel of land currently occupied by one of its food banks back in July. At the time, its board chair had even praised the development as an opportunity to find a new and better facility.

But then on Tuesday, the food bank’s official notice to vacate was served—and while director of community engagement Jordan Rubin said the vision for a re-imagined facility is the same, having an official countdown clock made the loss of their facility “real.”

“We have been looking actively for a new home for quite some time knowing this would be, you know, that we would get to this point,” said Rubin. “The clock wasn’t running at that point. But now it’s running, and by March 1, 2019, we have to be fully out of there.”

The facility, which Northwest Harvest has operated one of its food banks in rent-free for 35 years, is one of three low-rise buildings on land owned by Trinity Parish adjacent to the historic church. Faced with aging buildings, a cracked foundation, unreinforced masonry, accessibility issues, and other necessary updates, Trinity spent two years weighing their options. “Upon completion of this evaluation, the Church determined costs of upgrading the facilities to modern standards far outweighed benefits,” said a statement from Trinity Parish. “We also determined the parish did not have the financial resources to make these improvements.”

Their solution was to retain ownership of the land and partner with a developer to get some new construction on the site—which, in addition to condos, will house some new church facilities to replace the crumbling old ones. The space, said Trinity’s statement, “will result in expanded space to increase our outreach to the neediest among us, support music and the arts at a new level, and continue programs for our thriving and growing downtown congregation.”

Regardless of circumstances, though, it leaves Northwest Harvest without a home—and the organization’s requirements are increasingly hard to find in one package. It needs a large facility, maybe 20,000 square feet, with space for truck load-in. But it also needs to be centrally located and close to transit so as many people as possible can access the facility.

Even the existing location was becoming less than ideal—for clients with cars, it’s hard to park on the hillside, not to mention the maintenance issues that led Trinity to redevelop the site in the first place. But Rubin, now faced with a ticking clock, worries an interruption in outreach could be “catastrophic.”

“Potentially we will be gone and there will be a void in this area of a source for people who suffer from hunger or are of very low incomes and need us to be able to get by at the same time as the federal government may be making big cuts to SNAP,” said Rubin. “So for many people in Seattle this is a double hit that may be life-changing.”

That, said Rubin, is why the organization is “so passionate about this”—referring to the sudden media offensive strategy under the headline “Northwest Harvest’s Cherry Street Food Bank forced to move due to private development.”

“It’s really going to put a lot of people at risk and we don’t want that to happen,” he added.

While some service providers were offered space in the new building, that same offer was not extended to Northwest Harvest. “We probably would have liked that option,” said Rubin. “It’s probably something we would’ve liked to have investigated.”

It’s not that there’s hard feelings there, said Rubin—the organization just desperately needs a new space.

“I don’t want to say we’re being dissed or anything because that’s not the case. But we are being forced out,” said Rubin. “We have had a very good relationship with [Trinity] for 35 years. They’ve been a partner in us being able to operate out of that location. And we’ve been very, very grateful for that. So we don’t want to do anything that puts that friendship and partnership at risk, but we have to find a new home.”

Trinity’s statement said that “Trinity and Northwest Harvest continue to work collaboratively for the good of both organizations in a shared sense of mission.”

Currently, though, Northwest Harvest isn’t looking to Trinity for help in this situation. We asked about potential private partnerships, like permanent home Amazon is providing to Mary’s Place. “We have a wishlist,” said Rubin. “Either Amazon or Chris Hansen. There’s potential angels out there that could really help save the agency.”

“But we’re coming to the end of the relationship [with Trinity],” said Rubin. “It is what it is; we’ve been forced out due to the plans to redevelop the area.”

A request for comment from Caydon, the developer behind the tower, was not immediately returned; we’ll update when we hear back.