Seattle will protect the Showbox from redevelopment for at least six additional months, the City Council decided Monday, voting to prolong the music venue’s temporary inclusion in the Pike Place Market Historic District.
The temporary measure was supposed to last until July 23 and allow the city time to study whether the First Avenue property should be permanently included in the historic district. But the Department of Neighborhoods didn’t have the budget to get started right away and isn’t done yet.
The plan was for the department to complete its work by April, enabling the council to vote in July. The department now instead hopes to issue a preliminary recommendation by the end of June.
Were the department to recommend permanently including the Showbox building in the historic district, the city would need to complete an environmental review. The earliest the council could vote would be next January, according to a staff memo.
During a public-comment period, Showbox worker Misha Dumois urged the council to remember other old theaters lost to the wrecking ball. She said Monday’s extension “could be the difference” between rescuing and losing another beloved venue.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who championed the legislation, said cultural spaces such as the Showbox “drive economic growth” and make Seattle a vibrant city.
The vote was 8-1, with Councilmember Abel Pacheco the lone opponent. The city “should be embracing density,” Pacheco said, noting the Showbox is housed in a building at high risk for earthquake damage and noting the tower project would be required to pay millions of dollars into Seattle’s affordable-housing fund.
“I do not believe this tool is the right way to go about saving the Showbox,” he said, calling the historic district a “blunt policy instrument.”
The Pike Place Market Historical Commission approves new buildings, changes to buildings and changes in building uses within the historic district.
The battle over the Showbox is meanwhile being waged in other ways. Seattle’s landmarks preservation board approved a nomination last week for it to become a landmark and a lawsuit brought against the city by the site’s owner remains unresolved, with a hearing scheduled later this month.
Now that the nomination has been approved, the board could vote to designate the Showbox a landmark and require the preservation of certain physical elements. Designation wouldn’t necessarily stop redevelopment nor guarantee the space would continue to be used for live music.
The Showbox is run by AEG Live, an international power player in the concert business that leases the venue from a company associated with longtime downtown property owner Roger Forbes.
The Seattle music community was shaken last summer when news broke that Onni Group, a Canadian developer, was planning to buy the site and build a 44-story residential tower there.
As one petition to make the Showbox a landmark caught fire, drawing tens of thousands of signatures, the council took action. The petition now has more than 118,000 signatures. The nonprofit Historic Seattle last month made a preliminary offer to buy the property.
The Showbox opened in 1939 and hosted Duke Ellington in 1940 but was vacant by 1948, later serving as a theater, dance club, furniture store and bingo parlor. The venue reopened as the Showbox from 1979 to 1983, hosting James Brown, the Sex Pistols and the Police, was converted into a comedy club and then reopened as the Showbox again in 1996.