The city of Seattle has agreed to pay out nearly $1 million to the owner of the Showbox in exchange for the owner dropping his $40 million claim against the city, according to the city attorney’s office. The agreement effectively ends one major effort to save the iconic Seattle club.
Neither party will admit wrongdoing and both parties agree to not appeal an earlier court ruling, which nullified the city’s attempt to save the historic venue by including it in the nearby Pike Place Market Historical District. The settlement requires the city to pay the building's owner, Roger Forbes, $915,000 to cover attorney fees and other costs.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said in an e-mailed statement that the settlement was not a difficult decision to make.
“I weighed the likelihood of successfully appealing a case that is now largely superfluous against a potential judgment costing the City tens of millions of dollars,” Holmes said. “When presented with a resolution that costs us only a fraction of that potential judgment and that retains an option for a third-party organization like Historic Seattle to lead an effort to purchase the building in the event no landmark controls are imposed, this wasn’t a difficult decision to make.”
Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for the owner of the Showbox, said the owner of the property is still willing to sell the building to anyone who wants to preserve the 80-year-old venue.
“We are also pleased that our settlement with the City of Seattle includes a contingent option for a third-party allied with the City to potentially purchase the property for $41.4 million," Pickus said in a statement. "The owner has always been open to consider any serious purchaser that offers fair market-value.”
Forbes had earlier vowed to seek full damages against the city.
UPDATE: 5:30 p.m.
The city’s settlement with Forbes does not need city council approval but the settlement is dependent on King County Superior Court Judge Patrick Oishi accepting the agreement, according to Dan Nolte, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s office.
“Both sides have signed [the agreement] and within 30 days we are going to transmit it over to Judge Oishi,” Nolte said.
Once the settlement becomes law the city will now have exclusive rights to purchase the venue for $41.4 million. That gives the city, or a city-designated non-profit, to take care of the preservation themselves but there’s a catch. The exclusive purchase option in the settlement requires the city's Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) to relinquish control of the building by December of this year, which could ultimately doom preservation efforts.
This gets slightly confusing, but there are two legally separate attempts to save the Showbox happening simultaneously. The city council tried to save the venue by putting it in the Pike Place Market Historical District, but that effort was ruled illegal by Judge Oishi and is essentially dead with this settlement agreement. But there’s still an entirely separate preservation attempt being conducted by Historic Seattle, a non-profit, through the city’s LPB.
The LPB voted unanimously to make the Showbox a landmark in July and the board is now going through their “controls and incentives” process. This is where the board decides the specifics of preservation—i.e. what walls, fixtures, and design elements can’t be changed. The LPB had specifically cited the stage and dance floor as priorities for preservation in their landmark designation.
These controls could pose a problem for Forbes’ redevelopment efforts, but he may have found way to get out of them. The city’s exclusive rights to purchase the building are contingent on the LPB and the city council voting to not place any controls on the landmark building. This poses a real danger to preservation efforts because the city could satisfy this requirement and then ultimately fail to either find a preservation buyer or raise the $41.4 million before the contract ends in August of next year.
That outcome would leave Forbes with full rights to knock down the landmark and sell it to anyone he wants to.
Historic Seattle, the non-profit that nominated the building for landmark status, is still calling for controls to be placed on the building, according to Naomi West, the non-profit’s director of philanthropy and engagement.
“We are the landmark nominator and we fully want controls and incentives placed on the property,” West said. “[The Showbox] deserves to go through the controls and incentives processes.. and this really shouldn’t be an opportunity to go around the controls prescribed by law.”