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A building’s sentimental value doesn’t imply actual value

The Showbox. (KIRO 7)

Whenever the city goes into a fervor over saving a building, it becomes difficult to separate memories and nostalgia from actual value. Often the buildings will have personal significance, but lack architectural and commercial value. So how do we decide what’s truly worth saving and what isn’t?

RELATED: Developer may abandon Showbox redevelopment

“The building may mean something to a bunch of people,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley. “But aesthetically or historically it’s really not important, so we get into a value argument. ‘Well I value this place. I went to like six concerts there,'” Curley said.

This was the subject of a recent Seattle Times article in which Danny Westneat discussed negotiating the line between personal and market value. In a recent city survey of 400 commercial properties, the Showbox theater was voted as having no historical value, meaning the landmark review process should be skipped.

RELATED: Does preservation hurt housing, violate rights?

Sometimes the building is in poor condition, lacks any distinct architectural design, and/or doesn’t have deep historical value beyond people seeing good shows there. In these cases, the personal value is often not enough to offset the struggling market value.

After it became known that developers planned to demolish the music venue and turn it into a 44-story apartment tower, a local campaign to save the Showbox culminated in the City Council unanimously voting to expand the Pike Place Market Historical District to include it.

Historic buildings must have value beyond memories formed inside

Often the building itself has to be special, not necessarily the memories formed inside. The article cites the case of the 2002 block of 4th Avenue in Belltown, where modified former garages stand. Built in 1924, the building is unremarkable, but was home to recording studios that saw the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. Developers plans to demolish and replace it with yet another residential tower.

The community lore surrounding the site was not enough for preservation. In the similar example of the Showbox, Curley found that those upset could not separate their own memories from the actual usefulness of the building.

“So now the building means something to me, so you have to save the building,” continued Curley. “There were folks who went and spoke in front of the Seattle City Council, saying, ‘The Showbox is so important to me. It’s all about me and my memories.’

“But the value is determined by who’s willing to pay for it.”

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