Earlier tonight, the city council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee voted to extend a temporary expansion of the Pike Place Market to include the Showbox, with new council member Abel Pacheco abstaining. Tomorrow afternoon, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board will hold a hearing on a proposal to designate the building—which was deemed inappropriate for landmarking back in 2007—as a historic landmark.
Perhaps more consequential for the future of the Showbox, however, is the fact—being reported for the first time here—that the owner of the Showbox building, Roger Forbes, has terminated the Showbox’s lease. In a letter written in April and obtained exclusively by The C Is for Crank earlier today, Forbes’ representative, Eric Forbes, told the Showbox’s owner, Anschutz Entertainment Group, that he is “writing to advise you in advance that your lease of the Showbox at 1426 1st Ave. in Seattle will not be extended or renewed at the expiration of its term.”
AEG’s lease on the Showbox expires in January 2024, and includes a clause that allows the owners to end the lease early if they decide to develop the property. That was the plan until council member Kshama Sawant got wind of a proposal to build a 44-story apartment building on the property last year and launched an effort to “stop corporate developers” by “saving the Showbox.” In the months since, “Save the Showbox” has turned into a polarizing rallying cry, pitting a mostly white, middle-aged crowd of music fans and historic preservationists against urbanists who want more housing in dense neighborhoods (and downtown is the city’s densest). Those same urbanists point out that the council voted just two years ago to upzone the Showbox building for precisely the kind of development Forbes proposed, and is now trying to walk back that decision.
In addition to the various efforts to landmark or otherwise designate the building as historic, the owners are also locked in a lawsuit against the city, which is scheduled for trial later this year. Late last month, the city and the building’s owners filed motions for summary judgment—the city seeking dismissal of the case, and the owners seeking to void the Market expansion ordinance. King County Superior Court Judge Patrick Oishi will hear oral arguments from both sides on Friday, June 21.
Also last month, the nonprofit group Historic Seattle expressed their interest in buying the building from the current owners, asking them to put their lawsuit on hold for a year while the group cobbled together funding from philanthropists. In exchange, Historic Seattle offered to call off its efforts to landmark the Showbox. It appears that those conversations, too, are deadlocked.
If Forbes holds on to the property, the Showbox will have to close down or move by the beginning of 2024 at the latest. Two events could change that timeline. In the first scenario, the landmark effort and the effort to permanently expand Pike Place Market and subject the Showbox building to the Market’s restrictions on development could fail and Forbes could sell to a developer as originally planned, shortening the timeline. In the second, one or both of the preservation efforts could succeed and Forbes could decide to sell the property, either to Historic Seattle or another group that has not yet emerged. Both those scenarios involve a lot of hypotheticals. Forbes has said he’s open to a serious offer, but he has also made it clear what kind of offer he considers “serious”—something right around $40 million, the amount his ownership group was set to earn from the sale to Onni, the Vancouver developer that had planned to buy the building, and the amount for which he originally sued the city.
Another fact worth considering is that Forbes appears to be fired up at the idea that AEG is working against the owners of the Showbox building by working behind the scenes to support the “Save the Showbox” effort. “From discovery in the litigation to which the City is a party, it has come to light that the City in part became an advocate for the business interests of AEG, a major corporate entity,” the letter says. “Through various efforts, it also appears that Historic Seattle acted at the behest of AEG.” And every Showbox employee who shows up to public hearings in a Showbox shirt and talks about the need to save the Showbox is, of course, an AEG employee.
In a letter to committee chair and “Save the Showbox” advocate Lisa Herbold this past Monday, Forbes’ attorney, John Tondini, wrote that every council member who has discussed the Showbox legislation with AEG, its employees, or Historic Seattle should recuse himself or herself from voting on the historical district extension, and that “any councilmember who has voiced support for retaining the current use of the property or met with local music group promoters, artists and the like, is not a neutral, unbiased decision maker and should step aside and not participate.”
Also today, Herbold mentioned that Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Department of Neighborhoods (which is overseeing the study of the Pike Place Market expansion, which was supposed to be complete in March) argued in public comment tonight that the city should add more properties besides the Showbox to the Market expansion—raising the specter of an earlier proposal that would have put most buildings along First Avenue from Virginia to Union Streets inside the Market. (I wrote about that proposal, which would have imposed strict controls on what kind of businesses would be allowed in buildings within the expansion boundary, whether they could be remodeled, and how and whether they could be redeveloped, last August). It’s unclear which specific properties the preservation advocates want to include in the Market.
The legislation to extend the Market expansion goes to the full council next Monday.