Ground broken for 12th Avenue Arts building

A standing-room crowd of several hundred people packed into the Velocity Dance Center on Thursday afternoon to munch on free pizza and hear Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and others praise the groundbreaking for 12th Avenue Arts, a new multiuse theater and housing project on Capitol Hill.

The assembled then marched across 12th Avenue for a brief and chilly ceremony in the building site, a 29,000-foot lot between East Pine and Olive streets.

Formerly a parking lot for Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct vehicles, it will contain a complex with 88 apartment units for families and individuals, offices for nonprofit organizations, a community meeting space and two theaters — a 149-seat venue and one with 80 seats.

There will also be retail space on the ground floor, and more than 110 underground parking spaces for the East Precinct.

The $43 million construction project is being developed by Capitol Hill Housing, a public development authority. It took years to get under way, with funds from city, state and federal government agencies, and the participation of neighborhood and arts groups. All funds are secured, apart from the $550,000 needed to complete a current $4.6 million capital campaign.

The project was moving slowly through the pipeline, but after McGinn took office in 2010, said Capitol Hill Housing Foundation executive director Michael Seiwerath, “He saw the benefit in the project and really rallied city departments to make it happen.”

“Look, there are a lot of complicated pieces to this,” McGinn said. “There were a lot of reasons to say no, but you have to sit down with all the parties and find the reasons to get to yes, which is what happened.”

The arts community is particularly pleased that theater space, difficult and expensive to secure on Capitol Hill for many fringe drama troupes, will be part of the complex.

Three companies, New Century Theatre Company, Strawberry Theater Workshop and Washington Ensemble Theatre, will manage and perform in the two venues and were consulted on their design.

“It’s almost unheard of to have small fringe theaters in on the design of something like this,” Seiwerath said.