THE FENIX, a Pioneer Square club knocked out by the Ash Wednesday earthquake, is looking to rise from the ashes at a new location on First Avenue.
The only thing standing in its way is history.
The Pioneer Square Preservation Board, historical arbiter for the square's landmark district, is weighing the Fenix's application to move into the Buttnick Building at 200 First S. (First and Washington). The Board took testimony at its Dec. 19 meeting and expects to make a decision on Jan. 2.
Fenix co-owner Rick Wyatt proposes to renovate the Buttnick Building and a structure next door (the City Loan Building), creating an upstairs restaurant/club and a downstairs dance club. The Fenix was formerly located in the Cadillac Hotel building on Second South, one of the most severely quake-damaged buildings in the neighborhood.
Why is this battle being fought before the Preservation Board? The city's building codes give regulators very few discretionary review powers (indeed, the Fenix's construction application has already been given conditional approval). On the other hand, landmark regulators have far greater power to deny applications on historic grounds.
Therefore, Pioneer Square residents and merchants annoyed by the glut of bars and taverns in the neighborhood have taken to the preservation trail. Testimony at last week's hearing was split between Fenix supporters, who praised the club's reputation as a well-run, safe nightspot, and concerned neighbors, who called for a limit on nightclub expansion. "I think the question is 'What is our saturation point for clubs in a two-block radius?'" said Laine Ross, neighborhood resident and owner of the nearby business Animation USA.
In making its decision, the nine-member Pioneer Square Preservation Board faces a couple of conflicting legal provisions. While "restaurants and taverns" are specifically recognized as a key element of the Pioneer Square business mix, the city code also calls for the board to discourage uses which take up more than 3,000 square feet at street level (the ground floor Fenix space would comprise about 5,794 square feet of the two buildings— the basement club would occupy about 6,000 square feet). "It's too big," said Bif Brigman, owner of Laguna Vintage Pottery. "It's going to attract too many people."
But Fenix supporters say the proposal merely relocates an existing business, rather than creating a new nightclub. The conversion will also fund the renovation of two recently underutilized and unkempt structures in the heart of the historic district. If the application is denied, says Fenix employee Kristopher Geren, "I'm sure that Starbucks would be happy to buy those buildings. They only have two (cafes) down there—they probably need three or four more."