There’s a new player in the fight to save the Showbox from demolition. The nonprofit organization Historic Seattle said they made a preliminary offer last week to Roger Forbes, the venue's owner. The nonprofit is asking Forbes to give them a year to hunt for the funds to purchase the property. In exchange, the nonprofit would agree to delay their upcoming landmarks nomination process for the historic venue.
Historic Seattle has a track record of saving large buildings in the city, including purchasing Washington Hall for $1.5 million in 2009, and they told me they are confident they can get enough funds for this effort. But this project's size would be considerable: the county estimates the property’s land value at $12.3 million. This doesn't include the total value if developed, which could more than double or triple that price tag. Forbes has not publicly stated the price he would take for the venue, but in his lawsuit against the city's preservation efforts, he asked for over $40 million in damages.
Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for Forbes’ company, said in an e-mailed statement that Forbes “has and will always consider any serious purchaser that offers fair market value for the property.” Pickus confirmed that they have received Historic Seattle’s preliminary offer but hinted that it did not satisfy Forbes. “We would be happy to consider their offer if it contained an acceptable price and verifiable funding source."
Eugenia Woo, the director of preservation at Historic Seattle, told me that their offer identifies the nonprofit itself as the buyer but does not identify where Historic Seattle would get the money. Woo said they need more time before they can raise the necessary funds.
"The asking price has never been made public, so right now it’s not really an offer to purchase the property. It’s expressing interest that we would be interested in becoming the buyer, but we would need time to raise the funds to acquire it," Woo said.
Woo announced the new proposed deal at a Wednesday event at the Showbox. Councilmember Lisa Herbold, one of the council members most active in protecting the venue, told me at the event that she thought Historic Seattle’s offer was a serious one.
“I think they have shown before that when it comes to mustering resources to save beloved properties in this city, that they are able to do so,” Herbold said. “Between the resources that they have available to them… and the fact that they are able to muster a lot of interest from the angel investor community, particularly in rock philanthropy, I think they could do it.”
Historic Seattle’s offer comes 10 months after news broke that Forbes intended to sell his building to a developer with plans to put a 44-story tower in its place. Preservation efforts immediately kicked off, Historic Seattle was able to nominate the venue for landmark status in just 10 days, more than 100,000 people signed an online petition to save the venue, and evenBen Gibbard brought his man bangs to City Hall to demand action. Now, nearly a year later, both preservation advocates and Forbes are facing deadlines on three different fronts that could decide the fate of the property.
• Historical District extension expires: The City Council temporarily extended the Pike Place Market Historical District in August, which effectively blocked the venue’s demolition, but that extension expires in July. Herbold recently introduced a City Council bill prolonging the market extension for an additional six months and a council vote is planned in early June.
• Jury trial approaches: In September, Forbes sued the city in response to the temporary historical district extension, seeking over $40 million in damages and a reversal of the venue’s temporary protections. That lawsuit is now on the verge of going to trial, with a trial date in September and early legal deadlines quickly approaching.
• Landmarks nomination process set to begin: Historic Seattle applied to landmark the venue through the city’s Landmark Preservation Board. The first hearing in that process is scheduled for June 5. Landmark status can’t guarantee that the building will remain a venue, but it could complicate redevelopment plans.
The preliminary offer Historic Seattle announced Wednesday night is similar to a different agreement that the city and Forbes have reportedly been attempting to negotiate. Herbold said that attorneys representing Forbes approached her in October offering to put the lawsuit on hiatus if the city could arrange to buy Forbes out of the building. Crosscut reported in April that the two parties were “nearing a temporary legal détente,” but Woo and Herbold both said those talks have stalled.
Herbold said this is for two reasons: Forbes wants a buyer with funds ready to be identified before he will pause his lawsuit, and his attorneys have also recently said they are concerned that Historic Seattle’s landmarking process is still moving forward. Herbold said the city had already advised Forbes that the lawsuit would need to be paused before they could secure a buyer with funds at the ready, and Historic Seattle had proposed delaying the landmarking process if Forbes delays his lawsuit.
“Both of those things were clearly articulated numerous times, so it’s a bit of a head-scratcher at this point,” Herbold said.
Historic Seattle can delay their landmarking process up until the day before their hearing, according to Woo. That means Forbes has until June 4 to agree to Historic Seattle's offer.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Historic Seattle asked Forbes to delay his lawsuit. A representative for the non-profit said their offer does not require the lawsuit to be delayed.