Lester Black
The owner of the historic Showbox nightclub in downtown Seattle is vowing to continue seeking damages against the city after a King County Superior Court judge ruled last Friday that the city's temporary protections for the venue were illegal.

“Following Judge Oishi’s comprehensive ruling last week that the City Council’s ordinance is illegal and void, the property owners are preparing to pursue claims against the city for payment of attorney fees and financial injury due to the Council’s illegal action,” said Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for the owner, in an e-mailed statement.

Roger Forbes, the owner of the Showbox, sued the city last year shortly after the council voted in August to temporarily include the venue inside the Pike Place Market Historical District. Forbes argued in his lawsuit that the city had acted illegally by singling out his property after the council had already voted twice in the last ten years to rezone the property for 44 stories of development. On Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Patrick Oishi ruled in favor of Forbes, deciding that the city’s action constituted an illegal spot zone and had violated Forbes’s due process and equal protection rights.

Oishi’s ruling nullified the ordinance. Dan Nolte, a spokesperson for the city attorney’s office, said the city has 30 days to decide if they want to file an appeal.

“We’re evaluating our options and need to confer with our clients before determining what’s next,” Nolte said in an e-mail.

Pickus said Forbes is pursuing the legal fees and damages because a developer backed out of the deal to bulldoze the venue and replace it with 44 stories of luxury apartments after the City Council ordinance temporarily protected the venue. If Forbes pursues the damages he will have to argue his case during a later trial, according to Rick Eichstaedt, a professor at the Gonzaga School of Law.

“They would need to present evidence as to what their damages might be — this could include forgone revenue from the development, increases in construction costs as a result of the delay, etc,” Eichstaedt said in an e-mail.

Eichstaedt added that Forbes could decide to resolve his damages claim outside of the courtroom.

“It is possible at this point, that the plaintiffs might call it good—they got the city's action declared void. It is also possible that the city and plaintiffs could settle on the issues of damages/fees/costs. (That is not uncommon),” Eichstaedt said.

Roger Forbes wants to be able to demolish that stage AND the chandelier.
Roger Forbes wants to be able to demolish that stage AND the chandelier. Lester Black

Eichstaedt said if the city appeals Oishi’s ruling determining damages would be delayed until after the appeal is decided. The city’s decision as to whether they appeal or not will likely be decided by the City Council itself. Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who was a leading council member arguing for Showbox protections, said the city should appeal.

“This blatantly undemocratic, pro-corporate developer ruling says that elected representatives may not listen to and represent the interests of constituents,” Sawant said in an e-mail. “The implication of such a ruling is that working people cannot be allowed to influence political outcomes in City Hall in the context of the disproportionate power and influence of real estate corporations and big business. This is unacceptable.”

Sawant also said the city should move forward with new legislation to “permanently expand the boundaries of the Pike Place Market Historic Preservation District more comprehensively (including, but not only, the Showbox property).”

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who was also a vocal proponent for protecting the venue, said she is still waiting to decide if she supports an appeal.

“I’m disappointed that the decision made doesn’t recognize its place in Seattle lore and as a good fit for the Pike Place Market Historical District,” Herbold said in an e-mail. “I’ll continue to work with the Council, the Mayor, the Law Department, and others to explore our options.”