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It's crunch week for people trying to save the Showbox

caption: Shannon Welles wants to save the Showbox. She has worked there 17 years.
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Shannon Welles wants to save the Showbox. She has worked there 17 years.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The Showbox is fighting for its survival. This week, the future of the storied Seattle music venue will be discussed at two public hearings: Tuesday afternoon at the City Council, and Wednesday afternoon before the Landmarks Preservation Board.


You may remember that the owner of the Showbox wanted to sell to a developer who would have knocked it down and put a 44 story residential tower on the site. But activists who want to preserve the Showbox lobbied and drummed up a huge crowd of supporters.

City council member Kshama Sawant led a charge to protect the venue by extending the Pike Place Market Historic District – absorbing the Showbox and temporarily preventing development. Those protections expire in July. On Tuesday, there’s a public hearing about whether to extend those protections another 6 months.

So why are people interested in protecting the Showbox?

It’s a historic Art Deco ballroom. Maybe a little worn around the edges. And it’s a unique size – bigger than the Crocodile, smaller than the Paramount. That makes it an important rung on the ladder for bands on the verge of making it big, like, when Macklemore sold out 3 shows there.

And then there's its place in Seattle music history.

Shannon Welles founded an organization called Friends of the Showbox, and she’s worked there for 17 years.

Here's what she told me: “Who has played on that stage matters to people. It matters to the people who work there it matters to the people who come there. We actually get people who come in during the day because they just want to see the room where Pearl Jam or Soundgarden played. I mean, they just want to see the place – because it’s famous.”

caption: Puddles performs at the Showbox on June 1, 2019.
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Puddles performs at the Showbox on June 1, 2019.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

But isn't this about more than just the Showbox? People seem to be frustrated at how quickly this city is changing -- and how many beloved business are getting knocked down...

Absolutely. And somehow, the Showbox became the symbol - the "last straw" for a part of Seattle weary of losing so much of its culture. So, on Tuesday people will argue for and against protecting the Showbox another 6 months.

What difference is 6 months going to make?

Well, that sort of depends on the mayor. When the Showbox was given 10 months to live – the mayor was supposed to use that time to complete some studies on the importance of the venue to Seattle. But those studies haven't been completed yet.

I reached out to the mayor’s office, but they haven’t responded yet.

UPDATE: Mayor Durkan's response follows at the end of this story.

One complicating factor might be that the owner of the property, Roger Forbes, has sued the city for 40 million dollars, and he's asked the city to restore his right (or any future owner's) to develop the property.

And what have you heard from Forbes about this?

I got a statement from his spokesperson, which says… and I paraphrase:

The city has had plenty of time to protect the Showbox over the years, and has consistently chosen not to. Meanwhile, the property has been upzoned over and over again. And now, the city, responding to political pressure, decides to whisk away his right to develop this property? He’s saying this kind of thing isn’t fair and it certainly isn’t legal.

That's why he sued.

Update: Historic Seattle tells us the $40,000,000 claim in Roger Forbes' lawsuit has been dismissed.

And at this hearing on Tuesday, city council member Lisa Herbold will hear people make the case on whether or not to keep up this long and potentially very expensive fight.

And then on Wednesday, there’s ANOTHER hearing – what’s this one about?

That’s about whether to give the Showbox "landmark status."

What would that mean?

Very little, on its own. It could mean that the Showbox gets commemorated on a plaque glued to the side of a new luxury condo building, Welles told me. But it's one step on the complex path to preserving this venue.

Update: Historic Seattle added additional detail regarding the landmark process:

Landmark status can provide protection for parts of the building's architecture, but protecting the building's use requires other protections, such as permanent inclusion in the Pike Place Market Historical District and ownership by a preservation-minded organization. And commemorative plaques more often mark locations failures, rather than successes, popping up where landmark status was not awarded.

If the board decides to landmark the interior of the building – with its Art Deco columns and historic dance floor, then that would give the people trying to save the building some negotiating leverage. They’re hoping that an alternate buyer, like Historic Seattle, could purchase the property and save it.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan sent this statement after deadline:

Our consultants, Stephenson & Associates and AECOM, began work on the study this Spring and are targeting completion in July. They are ready to begin stakeholder interviews and an online survey/open house. The Department of Neighborhoods is also in the process of planning additional in-person events.

Do you have an opinion on the future of the Showbox? You can attend one of these meetings to make your opinion known:

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