Dueling Motions Filed as Both Sides Prepare for Preliminary Hearing in Showbox Case Next Month

The owners of the Showbox building on First Ave. downtown filed a motion for partial summary judgment in its ongoing case against the city today, seeking to void an ordinance passed last year expanding the boundaries of Pike Place Market to include the two-story, unreinforced masonry building, which also houses a pawn shop, a Chinese restaurant, and a pub.

The motion argues that the ordinance, which halted the owners’ plans to sell the land to the Canadian apartment developer Onni,  violates the land owners’ due process and equal protection rights and constitutes an illegal spot rezone of a single property, and seeks to have the ordinance overturned immediately, whether or not the case goes to trial.

Back in 2017, as part of the pro-density Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, the city council upzoned the Showbox property, along with others on First Ave, to encourage housing development downtown. The original plan for the property—a $40 million, 40-story apartment building—was exactly the kind of building the new zoning on First Avenue was meant to facilitate. When the plans became public, however, music fans—joined by council member Kshama Sawant and her supporters, who tagged Onni as a “greedy corporate developer”—rallied to “Save the Showbox” and the city council adopted legislation that prohibited the owners and Onni from moving forward with their plans.

The Showbox itself is owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group, and is a tenant in the building. AEG’s lease expires in 2021, and the company is under no mandate to renew.

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Also today, the city of Seattle filed its own motion asking a King County Superior Court judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the city council was within its rights to call “a brief time-out to preserve the status quo in light of news of the Showbox’s potential destruction” last August. That “time-out,” which was supposed to expire in July ,has since been extended another six months. Among other claims, the city’s motion argues that because the Pike Place Market extension doesn’t change the underlying 440-foot-high zoning (it just prohibits any changes to the existing, two-story building and the use of the building as a live-music venue  without the approval of the Pike Place Market Historical Commission), it doesn’t constitute an illegal spot rezone.

Neither the city’s nor the Showbox owners’ motion includes much that’s substantively new, but they do lay out some of the arguments that both sides are likely to raise if the case goes to trial.

One point that has not come up in previous court arguments is that if the reason people want to “Save the Showbox” is to preserve live-music venues (as opposed to, say, preserving a nostalgic set piece for people who miss how Seattle used to be in the ’90s), then they ought to be arguing to “save” the Triple Door, or Tula’s, or El Corazon—the latter two already threatened by redevelopment, and the former at risk by virtue of its prime downtown location.

For its part, the city is now arguing that the ordinance—which effectively prohibits the development of the prime downtown site as housing and preserves it as a two-story music venue in perpetuity—”is beneficial, not detrimental to the community and is consistent with comprehensive planning goals and policies.”

King County Superior Court Judge Patrick Oishi will hear oral arguments from both sides at 10am on Friday, June 21.


4 thoughts on “Dueling Motions Filed as Both Sides Prepare for Preliminary Hearing in Showbox Case Next Month”

  1. This issue was caused by the City Council themselves in 2017 when they re-zoned the Showbox property along with the next-door Hahn Building & other nearby buildings in the shadow of the historic Pike Place Market. Now, they must fix their own mistakes. This is just another case where City Leadership worsens an issue (transportation/homelessness) and then must scramble to fix their own terrible decisions due to public pressure.

  2. Shutting down Tula’s would be a major blow to jazz in Seattle — jazz that most often features local musicians, unlike Jazz Alley which often 1) headlines non-local musicians and 2) doesn’t always feature actual jazz.

  3. Part of the problem I have with this, is that showbox mostly just shows national acts. Looking at showbox’s calendar, the only local band I see is Tacocat.

    Seattle has been a great city for music, not because Lady Gaga tours here, but because musicians got their start here, and a scene could develop around their music that would support them.

    When it comes to the local music scene, the city government is somewhere between apathetic and outright hostile. El Corazon is a metal venue actual locals can book, and there is no move to protect it. Studio Seven was a major EDM venue for local DJ’s… and the city actually shut it down by revoking their liquor license.

    But if a venue for pop music with no connection to Seattle shuts down, they are on top of it.

    This is a bunch of council members in their 40’s and 50’s trying to become the arbiters of youth culture.

  4. You are one of the few people that make me look forward to my Friday [on KUOW].

    Keep up the honorable job.

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