In the latest twist to the Showbox saga, one of the preservation groups pushing for a landmark designation has made a preliminary offer to purchase the beloved concert hall.
Historic Seattle is seeking a deal with owner Roger Forbes that would give the veteran nonprofit one year to raise enough money to buy the 80-year-old venue located in downtown Seattle on First Avenue between Union and Pike streets. In exchange, the group would pause the landmark nomination process, which seeks to protect the downtown building from demolition.
“This is what Historic Seattle does. We’ve done this for more than 40 years, we’ve done this with dozens of projects,” said Naomi West, the nonprofit’s director of philanthropy and engagement, pointing to Washington Hall as an example. “We said: Why not us? Nobody else is stepping forward.”
West said Forbes has not yet given a formal answer to their preliminary offer, which was announced at a Wednesday night rally at the Showbox and first reported by The Stranger.
Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for Forbes’ company, said in an emailed statement that “the owner has and will always consider any serious purchaser that offers fair market-value for the property.”
Historic Seattle has until the day before a June 5 Landmarks Preservation Board hearing to delay or table the landmark nomination process, West says.
In 2009, Historic Seattle purchased Washington Hall, at 14th Avenue and East Fir Street in the Central Area, for $1.5 million and spent another $8 million over the next seven years rehabbing the building. While the Showbox may not need as many ongoing improvements, it would require significantly more money to purchase upfront. Historic Seattle is seeking a firm purchase price from Forbes before securing financial commitments from a large group of philanthropic investors, according to West.
Forbes sought damages of around $40 million — a figure Historic Seattle is using as its loose target for now — in a lawsuit filed last year against the city that contended a Seattle City Council measure to preserve the longtime venue was illegal. (On Friday, both Forbes and the city filed motions for summary judgment in the case. Forbes is seeking to void the ordinance, which temporarily expands the Pike Place Market Historical District to include the Showbox for 10 months. The city, saying it followed proper procedures in enacting the ordinance, is seeking to uphold it. A hearing is scheduled for June 21 in King County Superior Court.)
Last summer, news broke that Canadian developer Onni Group planned to purchase the Showbox and build a 44-story residential tower on the downtown site, prompting outcry from the Seattle music community and preservationists.
Meanwhile, the City Council’s efforts to protect the Showbox proceed June 4 when Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s plan to extend the temporary Pike Place Market Historical District boundary by another six months gets a public hearing. The boundary expansion, which could protect the building’s use as a music venue in addition to the building’s physical elements, is otherwise set to expire this summer.
The lawsuit filed on Forbes’ behalf last fall is also ongoing, despite previous reports of negotiations on a possible standstill agreement between Forbes and the city. Herbold had said the goal of the talks, initiated by Forbes, was to put the lawsuit on pause while searching for a stakeholders group that might acquire and preserve the Showbox. However, those negotiations have since broken down.
“As those talks deteriorated, we realized we’re the ones who are really going to make this offer,” West said.
Seattle Times assistant features editor Janet I. Tu contributed to this report.