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Lester Black

Showbox supporters got what they wanted Tuesday night after a Seattle City Council committee voted to recommend extending protections for the historic venue an additional six months, but not without hitting one complication. Abel Pacheco, the newest member of the council and the only member who has not yet voted on protecting the historic venue, appears to be unconvinced by preservation efforts and abstained from Tuesday's vote.

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Council members Lisa Herbold, Mike O’Brien, and Kshama Sawant all voted in favor of the measure, which keeps the venue temporarily inside the heavily protected Pike Place Market Historical District until December of this year. The council voted in August of last year to put the venue in the historical district after a developer announced that they intended to bulldoze the venue and replace it with a luxury apartment tower. The council had planned on voting to put the venue permanently in the district by this time, but a required city study examining the district’s expansion has yet to be completed before the temporary protection expires next month.

The 6-month extension of the protections still needs to be approved by the full city council, which will likely vote on the measure on Monday. Pacheco was appointed to the council last month after former Councilmember Rob Johnson quit to go work for NHL Seattle. Pacheco’s uneasiness with protecting the venue is noteworthy because he hasn’t previously been involved in the contentious preservation effort.

Pacheco’s eight other council members all voted to protect the venue (Johnson was the only council member not to vote to protect the venue after he skipped that meeting last year) so it’s not clear that Pacheco’s apprehensions will have an impact on Monday’s planned vote.

Pacheco asked the council’s staff a few questions Tuesday that seemed to hint that he was in favor of redeveloping the site. He first asked how many affordable housing units the developer would fund with the project (a council staffer said it’s not clear because the developer never actually applied for the project) and then asked if the 6-month extension could be shortened to just a 4-month extension. Pacheco then said protecting the venue created serious trade-offs, which he did not specify.

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“At this point I do not have sufficient information to make an informed decision to move forward,” Pacheco said. “So I will abstain from this vote.”

Pacheco being sworn in on April 22.
Pacheco being sworn in on April 22. Lester Black

Most of Tuesday’s meeting was spent receiving public comments in support of saving the Showbox, with representatives from various labor groups, Friends of the Pike Place Market, Friends of Historic Belltown, and Historic Seattle expressing support for protecting the venue.

There was one other piece of interesting news out of Tuesday’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, & Arts Committee meeting. Herbold, the chair of the committee, said that the mayor’s office is apparently exploring if the city can extend the historical district to include a broader section of First Avenue than just the Showbox. Sawant had proposed a broader expansion during last year’s preservation efforts but the council ultimately decided to only include the venue in the district.

This week is a busy week for Showbox preservation efforts. The Landmarks Preservation Board is hearing a nomination for the venue Wednesday afternoon. The board could move to put certain controls over how the property is redeveloped, although landmark status is not able to force the venue owner to maintain the building as a working venue. The strong protections in the market’s historical district make it one of the only places in the city where preservation controls can actually dictate how a business owner uses their property.