Once, it was a bowling alley. Then it was a church. But since the Othello light rail station at Martin Luther King Way and Othello Street opened a few years ago, the large "Citadel" building next to it has remained vacant. This spring, a non-profit group plans to transform it into Othello Public Market, a large public market in the building showcasing the area's cultural diversity.
According to U.S. Census data, Seattle's 98118 zip code is the most diverse zip code in the United States, and Market founder Mateo Monda of El Mercado PC said Othello Public Market will reflect that, providing vendors of food and goods from cultures all over the world a space to sell year-round.
Monda ran a Latino street market in Burien last summer, but he wanted to start something indoors that could run regardless of the weather. When he found Othello Center, it seemed perfect. The large space, which currently has a large sign reading "Citadel" above the doorway, has been a bowling alley, a retail center and a church. Most recently, it has been used as a venue for raves. A mock-up of the planned makeover shows the "Citadel" sign replaced with a large blue "O."
Monda hopes to fill the big blue building with stalls of produce, hot food, live chickens, a creamery, jewelry and cell phone sales. So far, 35 of 100 spaces have been filled. He hopes that once the market is at 50 percent capacity, the rest of the slots will fill more quickly.
Monda has been scoping out other markets in the area looking for interested vendors.
He has mainly been searching for people whose products are affordable and add to the range of cultures represented. Of course, American food and goods are still welcome, he said, and one barbecue stand has already signed up. "I've been vendor poaching for months," he said. "Bit by bit, we're filling up."
Permits are not yet in place, but Monda said the city has been very supportive of the market and it has received help from the nonprofits HomeSight and Washington CASH.
He believes it could be a much more affordable alternative for the building than opening up a new business. Monda hopes the doors can open for business in March, with hot food venders sprawling out into the parking lot. It's close enough to the Link light rail that riders may be lured by the whiffs of hot food being cooked inside.
Monda's interest in mixing cultures at Othello Public Market plays out in his non-market life, too. He went on vacation in Mexico and stayed there 15 years. He married there and has two daughters. Today, he lives on Capitol Hill with his 81-year-old father, two Mexican daughters entering their teens and his dog.
"I'm living in a sit-com situation, basically," he said.