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Durkan shows both support and reservations in signing Showbox legislation

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The mayor didn’t stand in the way of recent City Council legislation, but expressed concerns

Courtesy of Historic Seattle

Mayor Jenny Durkan has signed an ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council earlier this month, drafted after public outcry, that temporarily loops music venue the Showbox into the Pike Place Market Historic District. But in a signing letter, first reported by SCC Insight’s Kevin Schofield, Durkan also expressed reservations about the speedy process that ushered in the ordinance in a letter attached to her signature.

The ordinance, first introduced by Kshama Sawant, gives the Pike Place Market Historical Commission oversight into any changes to the Showbox’s land parcel, from demolition to changes in use. It was hastily introduced—and passed a week later—after developer Onni announced plans to build an apartment tower on the site.

“From the Pike Place Market to the Paramount to the Sanctuary, there are many buildings that continue to reflect our shared spirit, and I agree that the Showbox is one of those community anchors,” wrote Durkan. “Some places just capture who we are and want to preserve as we grow.”

However, continued Durkan, “[the] accelerated action by council cut short the due diligence of key neighbors, workers, businesses, preservationists, and others at Pike Place Market. This sort of engagement and discussion should inform any legislative action.”

The initial reason for expediency—and Durkan’s worries about the haste—is a little wonky: With a two-week City Council recess coming up, lawmakers worried that the property would vest before council could take action. At that point, the project wouldn’t be affected by zoning and land-use changes, so adding the land to a historic district would be a moot point.

As the council moved to put the bill through committee to get it to a vote before recess, the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections worked to get a vesting date set to help alleviate concerns. The project is now set to vest in mid-October, well after the City Council reconvenes. Durkan wrote that the updated timeline was set “to allow council an additional two months to weigh the next steps.”

“Saving the Showbox will take a concerted effort from city leaders, businesses, arts advocates, neighborhood leaders, historic preservationists, and music lovers,” said Durkan, in a “thoughtful process that would involve all key stakeholders and consider the various pros and cons of proposed actions—including alternatives that could retain a music venue while generated much-needed funding for affordable housing, or engaging with the music community to purchase the building.”

Meanwhile, historic preservationists and music lovers are working on another effort to help preserve the venue: a landmark nomination, submitted by Historic Seattle, Vanishing Seattle, and Friends of Historic Belltown before a planned nomination from the developer. The nomination calls for preserving both the building’s interior and exterior.