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Despite landmark status Seattle building set to be demolished

It's the end of an era for a historic building in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. The Wayne Apartments, granted landmark status in 2015, is set to be demolished.

SEATTLE — A historic Belltown building is set for demolition despite being granted landmark status in 2015 due to a loophole in the city's landmark ordinance.

In what some call Seattle's forgotten neighborhood, there are stories you can't forget. 

Beck and Igor Keller met in 2016 at the corner of Belltown's 2nd Avenue and Bell Street. 

"My eye happens to fall upon the best-dressed guy in the back bar," said Beck Keller. 

They'll go on to tell you it's the block where they fell in love. 

"He proposed to me in front of Mama's Mexican Kitchen. We walked three doors down to Neon Boots to take our engagement photos in the photo booth and then walked one door down to get celebratory pizza slices from Rocco's Pizza," said Beck Keller. 

"It was a whole Belltown evening," said Igor Keller. 

The two later had their wedding reception in the garage space in the back of Mama's Mexican Kitchen. 

The corner of 2nd and Bell is rich in history, not just for the Keller's, but for Seattle. Some consider it the heart of Belltown. It's filled with decades-old bars and restaurants and it boasts two city landmarks. One is the building where the Keller's met, a 1920's auto-garage that for many years was home to Mama's Mexican Kitchen. Then there's the Wayne Apartments. It's one of the oldest buildings in Seattle, at least for now. 

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"We'll start to see a fence constructed around the property. Then they'll block off the sidewalks, they'll close the alley and then we'll see the crane come," said Steve Hall, a member of Friends of Historic Belltown. 

The Wayne Apartments is set to be demolished and re-developed.

Friends of Historic Belltown has been working to embrace change and growth in the neighborhood while saving its character. When it comes to the Wayne Apartments, Hall feels part of the challenge is the city's own landmark ordinance. 

"It's a great ordinance. It's a very strong ordinance, but unfortunately, it has a loophole that the real estate industry knows," said Hall, "They use this financial exemption, it's considered a hardship under the U.S. Constitution, the government taking of property. They use that and they get out of [the Landmarks Ordinance.]"

The city's Department of Neighborhoods said when it came to the Wayne Apartments it evaluated "economic hardship factors" that are in the city's Landmarks Ordinance and placed 'no controls' on the building. 

The Wayne Apartments date back to 1890. During the Denny Regrade, the iconic rowhouse portion of the building was raised and the first-floor commercial space was created. In 2015, the building landmark designation said it "contributes to the distinctive quality or identity" of the neighborhood. However, you take one look at the building and you can tell it's falling apart. 

"We're not saying leave it as is. We would like to have seen it re-developed but with a restoration project. It would have been really cool," said Hall. 

Hall and the Keller's have fought to keep the block's identity. They say they've asked developers to include the historic features from the Wayne in a rebuild. Their hopes didn't match the plans. 

Documents from the city show the Wayne Apartments will be replaced with seven stories of market-rate housing with first-floor retail. It's a brand new design that seems to leave the building's history in the past. 

The building's design plan states part of the 2nd Avenue façade will pay "homage" to portions of the Wayne Apartments. 

"They're just going to completely demolish that block and there's seemingly nothing we can do about it," said Igor. 

The Keller's know they're not the only ones will memories of this old, Seattle block. 

"I'd like to think that our story isn't completely unique. I think that a neighborhood's history and a block's history is made up of so many of these similar stories. These interactions, friendships, relationships," said Beck.

As for their relationship...

"I think Beck and I are destined to last longer than this block," said Igor. 

"I'd like to think unlike this block, we're changing only for the better," said Beck. 

    

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