The Showbox is officially safe from the wrecking ball for the next 10 months after Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an ordinance Friday that expands the Pike Place Market Historic District to protect the venue. But in her signing statement, Durkan alludes to the possibility of eventually tearing down the historic venue.
Durkan’s statement is fairly vague but emphasizes that her administration is looking into multiple options, which could include tearing down the historic venue provided the new development includes “a music venue” at the current site.
The mayor writes that the city should look into “alternatives that could retain a music venue while generating much needed funding for affordable housing, or engaging with the music community to purchase the building.”
Durkan wasn’t available to speak with me for this story and her spokesperson, Stephanie Formas, declined to say if Durkan was committed to saving the physical structure.
The Onni Group, a Vancouver developer, filed plans with the city in July to demolish the 79-year-old nightclub and replace it with a $100-million apartment building.
Formas emphasized that the city is looking into multiple options, including having private capital purchase the venue.
“Pike Place Market, The Sanctuary, and the Paramount have all gone through slightly different preservation processes but with shared goals to retain the cultural heritage of the spaces,” Formas wrote in an e-mail.
Seattle voters saved the market with a successful voter initiative; The Sanctuary, a historic church that sits on 5th Avenue downtown, was saved after a private real estate firm purchased it from the congregation that wanted to demolish it; and the Paramount Theater was saved by a Microsoft executive in the 1990s when it was falling into disrepair and appeared to be bound for demolition.
While the details varied for these three buildings, each had one thing in common: the building’s original structure was preserved.
Durkan doesn’t seem convinced that this needs to happen with the Showbox.
The mayor also appears to be annoyed by the City Council’s legislative process, which was expedited by Councilmember Kshama Sawant. It took only one week for Sawant’s proposal to go from introduction to a successful full council vote.
“The accelerated action by Council cut short the due diligence and engagement of key neighbors, workers, businesses, preservationists, and others at Pike Place Market,” Durkan wrote in her statement.
A deal that allows the Onni Group to raze the Showbox and replace it with a development that includes a new music venue is not likely to satisfy the thousands of people trying to stop the night club’s destruction. Naomi West, the director of philanthropy for Historic Seattle, which filed a landmark application for the venue and is leading its preservation fight, said they are not interested in any plan that involves destroying the venue.
“We understand why everyone wants to examine every possible angle of how to make this come together but a new Showbox is just a knock off,” West said. “History isn’t about replication, it’s about authenticity and patina and experience and what you feel when you enter a space… you can’t replicate that. The reality is Duke Ellington didn’t play in a Showbox in a tower built for luxury housing, he played at the Showbox that still exists on first avenue.”
“I think they want to call it a compromise but in reality it’s just placating the developer at the expense of the community,” West added.
Durkan’s expansion of the market’s historic district is only temporary; if no action is taken, it will expire in 10 months and the land that the Showbox sits on will lose its most powerful protection. We’ll be following what happens between now and then.