SEATAC, Wash. -- Small business owners scrambled to pack up their merchandise and leave the SeaTac Center. The group of business owners, mostly immigrants, said the City of SeaTac forced them out of the strip mall after a decision to redevelop the property.
Friday, people from the community and their allies joined them outside of their businesses to rally against the city’s decision.
The City of SeaTac owns the property. City Council member Joel Wachtel said the deadline to leave the property was always set for Aug. 31. SeaTac’s government relations and communications manager Kyle Moore said business owners were first notified about the need to move to on March 12, 2018. He said a second notification was sent on Feb. 1, 2019, to all month-to-month tenants to vacate by Aug. 31.
Aesha Ali said her family ran a business at the SeaTac Center for 10 years. She said the strip mall gave her family and her community of Somalian people a place of refuge.
“We can socialize with the people by going around and get things we need. Everything is in the same place. So, seeing it this way today, that's heartbreaking to our family and every family that it happened to,” said Ali.
Wachtel explained the property was 65 years old and aging. He said city leaders decided to sell the property and redevelop it into a high-density housing area that would provide 618 units.
Moore said the development would help combat the affordable housing crisis in the area. Wachtel mentioned the redevelopment was the best strategy and use for the space since it was across the street from a light rail station.
People who attended the rally Friday said they felt city leaders should have handled the situation better.
“The process has been really unthoughtful. This community is being pushed out,” said one rally attender, who also identified as a member of the Somalian community.
“Turning their American dream into an American nightmare,” said another rally attender.
Ali and her family started clearing out their store five days before the deadline.
“This is like our home. This is where we feel that we belong in this place. That being taken away is very hard for our people. Frustration and sadness,” said Ali.
Wachtel said paying for the business owners to relocate their stores was not an option because they were given ample time to plan accordingly