The Seattle Fire Department reports that last week’s fire that destroyed four businesses and damaged several others was arson, and had been set inside the Green Bean Coffee House.
According to Helen Fitzpatrick, spokeswoman for Seattle Fire, “The fire was set in a coffee shop by an unknown suspect. Damage is estimated at $2 million, and that includes damage to the building and the contents of four businesses.”
This was the scene around 4:30 a.m. last Friday. The fire was reported just after 4 a.m.
Fire investigators began their investigation on Tuesday and wrapped up late this afternoon. The fire department announced the cause just after 5 p.m. today.
Seattle Police will now take the lead on this since it’s a criminal investigation.
There had been speculation that the devastating fire could be arson, after a series of arsons in Greenwood and Phinney a few months before. This brings the total number of arsons in our neighborhood to five.
I just got off the phone with Scott Nolte, the producing artistic director of Taproot Theatre, which was heavily damaged and which also owns the entire Eleanor Roosevelt Building that was destroyed.
“It is just so horribly disheartening to the four businesses that lost everything,” Nolte said. “The Green Bean was a nonprofit and the staff there poured their heart into it. And then we’ve got families that owned the other businesses… and lost everything. And our theater has basically been dismantled. It’s just astounding, it’s just numbing that someone for whatever reason would torch a little coffee shop.”
He said the theater is already dealing with trying to find an alternate site for its traditional Christmas show. And they’re working with a contractor in the hopes of getting the theater ready for the 2010 season by the third week of January, which seems pretty hopeful. Nolte said subscriptions for next season are ahead of last year.
“I don’t feel angry as much as it just makes me feel tired… everybody has to just start over,” Nolte said. “It’s just so sad.”
Greenwood-Phinney Chamber of Commerce President Steve Giliberto was stunned when I told him the news.
“I’m outraged,” Giliberto said. “Hearing that this was arson, I’m white knuckled angry.”
With four restaurants in the building, Giliberto initially figured it was some kind of accidental fire due to grease or something else.
“I honestly did not believe that it was arson. My first instincts were I couldn’t see that piece of property being targeted,” Giliberto said. “I did not look at the Green Bean and three Asian restaurants as being politically or socially on the wrong side of somebody. Maybe it was naïve.”
Giliberto said the neighborhood has a lot to face in the next few weeks or months as police try to arrest the person or persons responsible for all the arsons. “We have to grow up a little bit. And I mean that in a sincere way. Unfortunately, our view of our neighborhood as a quiet, mellow, cool place to be, has changed,” he said. “Not that those things have changed, but they’ve been challenged. We’re being looked at as prime pickin’s.”