For the last few weeks, conversations about Seattle development has been dominated by a plan to build an apartment building on the current site of music venue the Showbox. One tool floated by City Councilor Kshama Sawant, introduced just a week ago, proposed looping the Showbox into the Pike Place Market Historic District—giving the land it sits on stricter public oversight. The legislation passed unanimously.
Under the legislation, if approved by Mayor Jenny Durkan, the Showbox’s parcel would be moved into historic district’s boundary on an interim basis. The appearance of historic districts is regulated by either a specific citizen’s board (in the market’s case, the historical commission) or the Landmarks Preservation Board—giving them stricter design standards and a tighter rein on new development. The Pike Place Market historic district was originally created in 1971 by an citizen initiative as the market itself was eyed for new development.
The ordinance originally called for extending the district to the east and south for up to two years—with an option to make the expansion permanent—but the version passed by council only calls for a 10-month option and only affects the Showbox’s building.
While Durkan’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether she’d sign or veto the legislation—which could open the city up to a messy legal situation. Regardless, it takes six members of the city council to override a mayoral veto, so it could move forward either way.
If this happens, the owner of the property, Roger Forbes, can sue the city for taking away 44 stories' worth of development potential by driving Onni away. OR he can sue if the process still moves forward and the result is anything other than a 44-story tower.— Erica C. Barnett (@ericacbarnett) August 13, 2018
The ordinance was fast-tracked in case the project vested early—a point where zoning changes wouldn’t affect the project. Earlier this week, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) announced that the project won’t vest until mid-October, which gave the council more wiggle-room for passing legislation, although it ended up passing on its original timeline.
Meanwhile, a group of local preservation nonprofits led by Historic Seattle, armed with the support of high-profile local musicians, is going for the landmark preservation route.
Local musicians, most visibly Death Cab for Cutie frontperson Ben Gibbard, have stepped in the support both Sawant’s ordinance and a community-led effort to landmark the building. In an open letter published as an advertisement in the Seattle Times, a coalition of musicians, led by Gibbard, Duff McKagan of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Macklemore, and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, lent their support to the landmark effort and Sawant’s ordinance—supported by a collection of musicians that includes Conor Oberst, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Katy Perry.
“It is not just another venue or stop on the road,” read the letter, provided to Curbed Seattle by the group. “Like The Fillmore (San Francisco), First Avenue (Minneapolis), or the 9:30 Club (Washington, D.C.), The Showbox is one of the only truly unique, historic rooms of its kind left in the country. It must be saved for future generations of music fans and performers.”
“At this time, we are reviewing the new ordinance passed by council, and continue to have discussions with city staff,” said Onni in an email to Curbed Seattle on Monday evening. “Onni remains open to continued dialogue with staff, city council, and the community on any proposal for the site.”
A letter sent to City Council signals the intent to keep working toward a high-rise on the site—perhaps with some preservation element, but not necessarily venue preservation.
This article has been updated with a more current statement from Onni.