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Showbox attorney: Lawsuit a chance for city to ‘get its senses back’

The Murder City Devils perform at The Showbox in Seattle in 2014. (Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)

Attorney Brad Keller, who represents Showbox owner in its lawsuit against the City of Seattle, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that the city’s decision to redraw the Pike Place Market Historical District in order to keep the Showbox from being developed is nothing short of illegal.

“It has the impact of denying the property owner not only his property rights, but also his constitutional rights,” Keller said.

The Roger Forbes family, which owns the Showbox, planned to sell the property to Vancouver, British Columbia developer Onni Group, which intended to put a 40-story condo on the site. However, when fans of the theatre rose up in protest, the city stepped in to declare the Showbox part of the historical district and ineligible for demolition.

RELATED: Owner of the Showbox is right to sue thieving City of Seattle

This week, AEG filed a $40 million lawsuit with the King County Superior Court against the City of Seattle to reverse this decision so that the site can be developed.

“This controversy isn’t about whether you like the Showbox or didn’t like the Showbox; many of us went to a lot of rock n’ roll shows there that we enjoyed over the years,” Keller said. “The controversy is really about the city trying to use its power to really take away the private property rights of the owners.”

He explained that the owner had always planned for the Showbox to be a development site, but that those plans have been quashed now by the city’s actions.

“The city very recently in a very arbitrary and capricious manner decided to effectively down-zone it and really took away virtually most of the entire development potential of the site,” he said.

While the lawsuit seeks the property’s value of $40 million, the suit is not about the money so much as a chance for the city to “get its senses back” and undo the ordinance, Keller said. If this does not happen, then Keller expects the court to nullify the ordinance.

“It is an illegal taking,” he said. “That’s what the lawsuit contends and that’s what we have no doubt the outcome will be in court.”

He fears that if the ordinance goes through, this sets a precedent that allows the city to come after anyone’s property in the future.

“Next time it’s not going to be as popular, and it may be your property or my property,” Keller said.

Another major problem with the city’s current actions, according to Keller, is that rather than remaining objective and avoiding “sideline communication with affected parties” throughout the quasi-judicial process of rezoning as is protocol, some council members prominently took on the cause of saving the venue.

“We had several of the council members who actually became cheerleaders for the opposition groups and for the groups that wanted to take this property away from the developer,” Keller said. “It really, really shed our city council and our city government in a very, very unflattering light.”

Besides the millions in revenue from potential property taxes, the sale to the Canadian developer would result in a $5 million payment to affordable housing in Seattle.

“By trying to block this project, not only is the city depriving itself and the taxpayers of the tax revenue … but also the benefits of a $5 million that would go toward what is the significant issue of affordable housing in our city,” Keller said.

To answer the question that Dori has been posing since the news of the Showbox sale broke, it is possible that a group of the hundreds of musicians — including Katy Perry, Pearl Jam and Macklemore — who signed a letter to save the venue could buy and preserve the Showbox.

Keller also pointed out that the Vancouver developer has discussed possibly incorporating the theatre into a future structure.

“All options are potentially on the table here,” he said. “Nothing is cast in stone.”

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