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The Showbox is saved in Seattle … for at least six months

Fliers for the Save the Showbox campaign. (KIRO Radio, Mike Lewis)

Seattle’s Showbox Theater will stay a music venue, for at least another six months.

The City Council voted 8-1 Monday to extend temporary historic district protections that will prevent any redevelopment of the historic music venue.

“This concept of picking a side to me is nonsense,” Councilmember Bruce Harrell said, speaking to the community debate over The Showbox. “It’s not about picking a side. It’s about listening to people … my hope is that parties can work together and we can come up with a win-win that preserves our great music venue and allows these talented musicians to do what they do so well … for me it’s not about picking a side, it’s about working together as a community.”

“Hopefully, within the next six months as this legislation presents, we will get this work done,” he said.

Seattle-area musicians rally to save The Showbox

The city department of neighborhoods will have to apply for permanent protections.

The council extended the Pike Place Historical District around The Showbox to halt the property’s sale in August 2018. That extension was temporary and the deadline was coming up, despite the city failing to come up with a solution to the issue.

The owner of the Showbox wanted to sell to a Vancouver BC-based developer, but was stopped by the temporary re-zoning last year. The developer aimed to build a 44-story apartment tower on the site. Property owner Robert Forbes has sued the city over the historic district move which halted his plans.

Last week, the Landmarks Preservation Board unanimously agreed to move forward to decide on the venue’s landmark status in two months. That vote came Wednesday evening with a standing ovation. This is a separate action on the behalf of the city that is unrelated to the historic district. The city is therefore pursuing two separate methods of stopping the redevelopment of the music venue.

Differing opinions on The Showbox

Councilmember Abel Pacheco was the lone nay vote Monday. He said the issue surrounding The Showbox highlights the need for better tools to protect the city’s cultural resources.

“When we use a blunt policy instrument like the historic district as a tool, we are making housing the cost of saving The Showbox,” he said. “That is housing the city desperately needs. In the mist of a housing crisis that is rooted in a shortage of housing, we need to be building more housing of all types. This action takes away the opportunity to build 442 new units of housing we all need.”

He argued that greater housing density is needed in Seattle, especially near transit centers. He further noted that The Showbox is a structurally deficient building that is a danger considering earthquakes. He said that under the city’s MHA, all new housing must contribute to affordable housing.

“By closing the door to redevelop on this site, we are turning down up to $5 million in affordable housing payments that could have been required under MHA,” he said. “…. Let me be clear, I am not opposed to saving The Showbox, but I cannot in good faith support saving The Showbox in a way that places the burden on families trying to afford a place to call home in Seattle. As a city, we need to move away from a conversation that sets up a false choice between creating new housing and preserving cultural spaces. Instead of pitting these two things we need against each other, we should be having a conversation that promotes housing and culture.”

Pacheco’s comments drew laughter from the crowd at Monday’s council meeting. He also took the time to speak to the civil discourse, or lack thereof, at city council meetings.

“One final note, I hope that as we have this conversation we can do so in a way that is respectful to all of us,” he said. “At the public hearing last week, I was very concerned to hear one individual compare himself, as a Showbox fan, to a Native American and call The Showbox his reservation. I was even more concerned that the crowd applauded that statement. That sort of comparison is unacceptable in my mind and we should not be condoning it.”

Pacheco wasn’t the only voice of caution on the dais Monday, though he was the only no vote. Councilmember Lorena González warned her council colleagues that while their steps may benefit The Showbox currently, they could be harming future development of downtown Seattle.

“A caution to my colleagues that I am concerned about the direction of looking at expanding the scope of evaluation for the alleged purposes of evaluating the true historic architectural district nature of this space,” she said. “I am cautious of the fact that the expansion of the scope may lead to further limiting development capacity along First Avenue utilizing this historic resources tool as the mechanism to do that.”

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