Local Seattle preservation groups nominate Showbox theater for landmark status

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The Showbox in Seattle. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

A trio of local historic-preservation groups has nominated the imperiled Showbox theater for landmark status, trying to get ahead of the developer who has filed plans that may result in the theater’s demolition.

Historic Seattle, Vanishing Seattle and Friends of Historic Belltown submitted a landmark nomination for the storied music venue as of Wednesday afternoon, said Naomi West, director of philanthropy for Historic Seattle.

Vancouver-B.C.-based developer Onni Group had last month filed preliminary plans that could raze the venue and build a 442-unit apartment tower on the First Avenue site.

Shortly thereafter, Onni announced its intention to seek landmark status for the Showbox with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board — a procedural move typically used by developers to speed up the permitting process when a property is likely to be nominated at some point. It was unknown whether Onni would nominate the entire Showbox theater building, or just the facade or marquee or some other architectural feature.

Erin Doherty, landmarks coordinator with the city’s Historic Preservation Program, confirmed Thursday that it received the nomination from the preservation groups Wednesday afternoon. The Historic Preservation Program staff reviews nominations for completeness and sends them on to the Landmarks Preservation Board.

Doherty also said Thursday that Onni had not yet submitted a nomination. “They tell us they are working on one,” Doherty said. “Yesterday, they told me they were working on it and it might be next week or the following week. … It’s possible that we will have two reports to share with the board.”

Duncan Wlodarczak, chief of staff for Onni Group, confirmed in an email Friday that it’s “in ongoing discussions with city staff and the Department of Neighborhoods to nominate the structure that includes the Showbox as a Seattle Landmark.”

“We look forward to working with all stakeholders including with City Council, the Landmark Preservation Board, and the community,” as Onni explores potential opportunities for the site, Wlodarczak wrote.

That the nomination from Historic Seattle and the other two groups came in ahead of any nomination by Onni was done as a tactical move to ensure the preservation groups have a voice in the process, according to West.

If the developer had submitted an application first, “we would’ve been relegated to public comment status and not been given ample time” to support the case for landmark status for the Showbox, said West. By submitting the nomination themselves, the coalition of preservation groups is able to speak before the board for far longer to make its case.

“If it weren’t our nomination, we would have little to no confidence that the developer’s nomination, in fact, included all the significant moments that the Showbox has experienced, and covers all the architectural elements,” West said.

There are other efforts underway to try to save the Showbox.

A Seattle City Council committee advanced legislation Wednesday that would expand the Pike Place Market Historic District on a temporary basis to protect the Showbox, adding only the music venue site to the historic district for at least 10 months.

An earlier version of the legislation, introduced by Councilmember Kshama Sawant on Monday, would have expanded the historic district by a half block to the east and to the south for at least two years, pulling in a number of other properties in addition to the venue.

A final vote by the council could come as soon as Monday, and Sawant has been pushing for action as soon as possible.

Mayor Jenny Durkan has also said she was sending officials to talk with Onni about the future of the Showbox.


(This story has been updated with comments from the city’s Historic Preservation Program and from Onni Group.)

Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com; on Twitter @janettu.