Look closely and you might see the next Eddie Vedder doing soundcheck behind those windows.
Look closely and you might see the next Eddie Vedder doing soundcheck behind those windows. Courtesy El Corazón

Luxury skyscrapers seem to pose an existential threat to music venues in Seattle. Just look at the historic Showbox nightclub near Pike Place Market, which still appears to be on the verge of demolition even after Seattle City Council's intervention. Towers are now threatening the El Corazón nightclub, home to the early grunge movement, but this story might have a slightly less depressing ending.

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The city has already approved the demolition of the nightclub but its owner, Dana Sims, says he wants to rebuild El Corazón underneath two new luxury towers. Sims is now in the early stages of the development process and released early renderings that show two glassy towers with a new El Corazón nightclub at its base.

“I was approached by the [development] group we are now working with,” Sims said in an email, “and they proposed a joint-venture where the clubs would remain and be part of a new building. This was the outcome we’ve always hoped for and I jumped at the chance to make it happen.”

The early renderings show a music venue with an entrance facing east toward I-5, as the venue is currently situated. Two towers stand above the venue which would have entrances on the opposite, West side of the building. Sims said it’s not clear if the towers will be used for office or residential space. Sims said demolition of the venue and construction of the new buildings will begin sometime between 2.5 and four years from now.

El Corazón, once named the Off Ramp, sits on the edge of Interstate 5 near downtown and South Lake Union and has hosted some of Seattle’s most notable local bands, including being a hub of the early grunge movement. Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Alice in Chains all played the small nightclub early in their respective careers. Pearl Jam’s first show was at the nightclub in 1990. If Sims succeeds in rebuilding El Corazón and its adjoining venue the Funhouse, he could be doing the seemingly impossible—giving room for cultural spaces as Seattle’s skyline of glassy towers expands.

We are still a long way away from any guarantee that a new building will include a replacement of El Corazón. Sims is currently going through what the city calls “Early Design Review Outreach,” which is basically a process where developers tell the public what they want to do with a building without submitting any actual design plans. The current El Corazón development plans are as vague as the watercolor stylings make them look—they are not legally binding and are able and likely to change as the project moves through this approval process.

The project’s description on the city’s website says the “El Corazón & The Funhouse will take over their new home in the building once construction is complete.” But that description is able to change once Sims moves into the actual permitting process, according to Sam Read, a spokesperson for the Department of Neighborhoods. Read said the process is supposed to give the public a chance to weigh in on projects before plans are actually submitted.

“The intention is not to require that feedback be incorporated, but to have feedback shared early enough that it could be incorporated into designs while they are still being developed,” Read said.

So, while the community could shout loudly that they want the venue in the new building, Sims isn’t required to follow through on the plans even if everyone wants him to. While Sims did not sell the building, he is working in partnership with a developer to ensure the venue gets rebuilt.

“I’ve co-owned this property since 2015 and I intentionally didn’t sell because I want to be part of this next chapter on the site, which includes a larger, more modern space for El Corazón and the Funhouse,” Sims said in an email.

The El Corazon.
The El Corazon. Lester Black

Sims is very clear that he wants to keep the venue in the new building, but there is reason to be skeptical given a few of the comments Sims made earlier in this process. Rumors of El Corazón’s demise first started on Instagram in February and were followed by the Seattle PI reporting that Sims had applied for a demolition permit. When I asked Sims at the time if he was taking the building down he told that "There are no plans to demolish El Corazón and put a new tower in its place," Sims said in an email at that time. "The building we operate in is very old and I am considering some substantial improvements. This permit allows me the flexibility to consider, and plan for that."

Three months later, it seemed those "substantial improvements" involved demolishing El Corazón and putting a new tower in its place.

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Nevertheless, Sims maintained his story. “My initial plan was to remove the pole that graces our stage and do some much-needed structural work on the building,” Sims said in an email. After he secured the demolition permit he says he was then approached by a development group and decided to move forward with demolishing the venue as long as the new building could also include a music venue at its base. When I asked him if he would proceed with the project if it turns out a venue can’t be included he said it is “his mission” to rebuild the nightclub and is part of this project “to ensure the venues survive.”

There’s also reason to be skeptical that a rowdy rock venue can be put on the ground floor of either expensive apartments or top-tier office space, but Sims said the plan is feasible.

“For a building of this size, there are many structural strategies we can deploy to make sure there is adequate sound-proofing between the uses,” Sims said.