Efforts continue to 'Save the Showbox,' but the future of the theater is far from settled | KNKX

Efforts continue to 'Save the Showbox,' but the future of the theater is far from settled

Jun 6, 2019

Preservationists won a couple victories at Seattle City Hall this week in determining the fate of The Showbox theater. But the fight to halt the redevelopment of the 80-year-old venue is far from over.

On Tuesday, City Council members voted to prolong a temporary expansion of the Pike Place Market historical district that includes The Showbox.

The council first expanded the district last year, after news of the theater's potential demolition prompted a loud public outcry. The temporary expansion was set to last 10 months and expire this July to give the city time to study whether the district should be expanded permanently.

Including The Showbox in the historical district would heavily restrict what changes could be made to the building and property. 

"This is about making an informed decision," Showbox employee Ernie Ashwood told council members Tuesday evening.  

Three out of four council members on the committee voted in favor of extending the district expansion for another six months. Council member Abel Pacheco abstained. It goes before the full council next week.

The study is overseen by the mayor's office and the department of neighborhoods. If permanent expansion is recommended, the earliest the council would likely consider legislation would be December. 

Separately, the city landmarks board unanimously voted Wednesday to approve The Showbox's nomination. But it still has to clear another vote next month before it can be designated a landmark.

If the theater is designated as a landmark, the specifics of what would be protected and to what extent would be worked out with the property owner. Then there would have to be more votes by the landmarks board and the city council.

The attempts at historic preservation for The Showbox are just part of the activity surrounding the theater's potential redevelopment.

The property owner, Roger Forbes, sued the city last year after the council passed the initial expansion of the Pike Place Market historical district boundaries. That lawsuit is still making its way through court, with a hearing next month and a trial scheduled for later this fall.

The property also has not been sold yet. Media reported last summer that Forbes was planning to sell the property to a British Columbia-based developer, who intended to demolish the theater to build condos. But the sale has not been completed.

Historic Seattle, a preservationist nonprofit, also has expressed interest in buying the property. But they would need time to gather the funds to make an offer on the multimillion-dollar property.

Artists around the city have lamented a loss of performance and practice spaces as Seattle has grown. A vocal group of Seattleites seem to view this particular potential demolition of a music space as a symbol for a struggle over Seattle's cultural identity.

"We can build as many condos, as many apartments that nobody can afford, but without the vitality of the arts community, that is why we are here," local activist Amber King told council members Tuesday.

But there are no guarantees in any of these options. Landmark status or historic preservation does not generally dictate how properties are used, so those designations don't necessarily mean The Showbox would remain a theater.