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Seattle
Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Showbox Becomes A Slowbox

The city of Seattle is slow-walking the decision process on what to do with the venerable music venue, the Showbox, at First and Pike, across from the Pike Place Market. Slow is the order of the day, since all the possible solutions are undesirable.

The old building, home to many rock shows and band-debuts, seemed headed for tear-down and development as an apartment tower, until music fans erupted and City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant proposed saving it by annexing it to the Market Historic District. Historic Seattle then jumped in, advocating historic landmark designation and hoping to find a buyer. Lawsuits ensued and the city council is about to extend the hiatus.

Reality bites. The Market really doesn’t want to annex the property, figuring they would mostly be buying 10 years of lawsuits. Preservationists are wary of saving a much-modified and plain-Jane building that was already ranked low on the preservation scale. And wary too of extending historic preservation laws to “use,” as proposed, since that might put the city’s whole historic-preservation practices up for review. And once Paul Allen died, there doesn’t seem to be any rich rock-lover able to pay the $25 million or so to buy the Showbox. Meanwhile, the Canadian developer is getting cold feet, and if they walk the owner of the Showbox, Roger Forbes, just increases his claims of harm by the city.

The best proposal I’ve heard is to take the western half-block along First, from Union to Pike, and combine it into a multi-use development of medium height (hotel, office, new music venue, apartments) with a single owner. Putting that package together, of course, would be molto adagio.

David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and Crosscut.com. His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.

2 COMMENTS

  1. How much is this debate or debacle costing the city? And what is needed to get the council to consider the proposal for multi-use development?

  2. Not much cost yet,but the legal exposure from alleged spot zoning is in the millions. It would take a trusted mediator to try to bring the owners and developers together, and given the nature of the ownership (old families, stubborn owners), that is unlikely. A good deal would be quickly embraced by City Hall, which never wanted to get into this mess.

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