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Opening bids to buy (and save) Seattle Showbox likely to fail, sources say

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

A joint, secret offer from two Seattle non-profits to purchase the Showbox Market is rumored to be well short of the asking price and is likely to be rejected outright, according to sources familiar with the bid to save the popular downtown music venue.

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The offer, announced by the Seattle Theater Group and Historic Seattle, came in at less than half of the original $40 million bid that fell through when the city temporarily rezoned the downtown music venue when it faced sale and demolition.

Naomi West, director of philanthropy and engagement for Historic Seattle, declined to confirm the amount. She said the group has not been told that the offer was rejected.

“We are making a good-faith offer,” she said. “As long as the door is open, we’re not going to be talking about it. We put forth an offer in October and as far as we know, it has not been declined.”

But sources said very likely will be, if it hasn’t been already. Roger Forbes, owner of the Showbox property, is believed to be unhappy about the amount of the secret bid and subsequent publicity campaign by the two groups seeking to buy and run the venue.

West countered that STG and Historic Seattle remained quiet initially about the bid, before deciding that the time was right to let people know that the groups were forging ahead with a plan.

The 80-year-old Showbox became the leading civic center of attention in July 2018 when a $40-million offer for the 1st Avenue parcel became public. The offer and plan from the Vancouver B.C.-based Onni Group was to build a $100 million, 44-story luxury apartment tower.

But Seattle’s music community and city council pushed back on the plan to shutter the downtown venue for good, first by giving the building landmark status, and then later by declaring that the building now was part of the protected, development-restricted Pike Market Historical District.

The newly restricted rezoning of the property prompted the Onni Group to cancel the multi-million-dollar offer.

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Forbes sued the city for $40 million, declaring that the council’s decision amounted to an illegal “spot zoning,” meaning that that city arbitrarily plucked out a single parcel for sharply different regulations than the adjacent properties.

A judge agreed. In the subsequent settlement, the city agreed to pay Forbes nearly $1 million dollars, but in return, he was asked to consider a bid from a city-sanctioned non-profit that would seek to purchase the property and continue its run as a music venue.

STG — which runs the Paramount and Moore Theatre music venues among other — joined forces with Historic Seattle forces to save the Showbox. The two nonprofits made the offer in October.

But Forbes, early on, made it clear he’d like money the similar to the failed Onni bid. Other developers are rumored to be lining up to make bid on the property that sits across the street from Pike Place Market, and that has the potential for an unimpeded, panoramic view of Elliott Bay.

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