What has long been expected is now a reality: the guy that owns the Showbox and wants to tear it down for a new high rise development is suing the city for trying to protect the historic venue.
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Roger Forbes, the owner of the building, is alleging that the city broke its own zoning rules and state law when it rushed an ordinance through the City Council last month that temporarily blocked demolition of the venue. The lawsuit asks a judge to invalidate the city law that protected the Showbox and seeks $40 million in damages, the amount Forbes says he was denied when the city blocked his deal to redevelop the property.
The lawsuit was filed last Friday and first reported on yesterday by Crosscut.
Forbes made a deal with the Onni Group, a Canadian developer, in April of this year to raze the 79-year-old nightclub and replace it with a 44-story, $100 million apartment building, according to the lawsuit. When that deal became public in July, the City Council quickly worked to stop the planned destruction. To save the venue, the city temporarily extended the Pike Place Market Historical District to include the building.
Forbes’s lawsuit raises a number of issues as to why his building shouldn’t be considered part of the district, but interestingly, the lawsuit also alleges that the city rejected a plan from the Onni Group to include a rebuilt Showbox venue in their new building. This idea—that the developer could include a replacement venue in its new building—had been rumored but Onni never made their plans public.
The lawsuit says the developer offered to build “a new performance space within the new development.” The lawsuit claims that Councilmember Lisa Herbold mocked the idea when she stated the city needed to be “creative” to save the venue.
This "compromise" plan was alluded to when Mayor Jenny Durkan said last month that her staff was trying to work out a deal with the developer, but she never elaborated further. When the mayor signed the Showbox’s temporary protections into law last month her statement conspicuously left open the possibility of an eventual destruction of the venue. The preservation advocates at Historic Seattle told me at the time that a replacement venue would not satisfy their demands. But preservation experts at Historic Seattle are not necessarily of the same opinion as the nearly 100,000 people that signed an online petition to save the Showbox—what would those concertgoers think if they saw a clear plan from Onni that included a replacement plan for the venue?
We don't know, because the Onni Group has made no public comments since their plan to raze the beloved venue was released in July.
While Roger Forbes and the Onni Group kept quiet, thousands of people rallied around keeping the Showbox. City Councilmember Kshama Sawant led the charge in City Hall to protect the venue, first asking the city’s Landmarks Board to protect the venue but then turning to the Pike Place Historical District when it became clear that the city's landmark law would not be strong enough to save the venue. A city landmark only protects certain physical aspects of a building but not how the historic building is used. On the other hand, the market’s historic district is one of the only places in Seattle where the public can actually dictate not only how a historic building is preserved but also what happens inside that landmarked building.
Sawant’s expansion of the historic district was rushed through the council and passed 8 – 0 on Aug. 13, with councilmember Rob Johnson missing the vote. Durkan signed the expansion into law on Aug. 27, putting the building’s design and use temporarily under the control of the Pike Place Market Historical Commission for ten months.
Forbes argues in his lawsuit that this expansion of the district onto his land goes against the city’s existing policy for the market area. When the city created the district in 1974 they bought the properties involved or made sure the private owners were “willing to voluntarily accept the heavy restrictions and controls,” according to the lawsuit. Forbes is obviously not willing to accept the new regulations nor did the city offer to buy the land, which is valued at over $12 million.
Forbes also argues that the building itself does not fit the district’s existing regulations, which ban loud performance venues, backlit signs like the venue’s marquee, and buildings larger than 2,000 square feet, according to the lawsuit.
The city is also violating Forbes’s right to free speech by compelling him, against his will, to maintain the building as a music venue, according to the lawsuit.
The trial has a Jan. 28 court date, according to Crosscut.