City Council Passes Temporary Historic Protection for The Showbox

With a lively crowd on hand, the Council unanimously voted to delay any demolition of the venue by 10 months.

The Showbox has been saved … at least for now.

On Aug. 13, the Seattle City Council unanimous voted to approve an expansion of the Pike Place Market Historic District to include The Showbox. While not a permanent protection, the move means that the Showbox has 10 months before it could face any potential demolition, buying city leaders and activists time to come up with a fully fleshed out plan to keep the beloved music venue in place.

The Showbox’s future seems grim on July 24 when Vancouver, B.C.-based developer Omni Group filed plans to build a 44-story tower of luxury residential units on the site of The Showbox.

The music community quickly rallied behind the Save the Showbox movement with fierce resolve. The petition to Save the Showbox has already garnered over 93,000 online signatures. Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard showed up last week to speak before the City Council on the matter. Musicians bought a centerfold spot in the Aug. 10 edition of The Seattle Times to publish an open letter in support of venue, with signatures from Dave Grohl, Macklemore, Duff McKagen and Katy Perry. The cause even got an mid-set shout out from Pearl Jam during their sold out shows last week at Safeco Field.

While it was fairly evident from the start of Monday’s council meeting that the ordinance had unanimous approval from the City Council, it didn’t slow the impassioned testimony during public comments from the sign-touting overflow crowd of Save the Showbox supporters. There were so many in attendance that the public comment period was extended by 20 minutes.

Fittingly the comments began with a song, as the first speaker strummed his acoustic guitar and sang a tune that included the line, “You gotta save the Showbox / It’s been very good to me.”

What followed were a string of emotional pleas from those both young and old. Commenters shared personal moments at The Showbox that had changed their lives, spoke to the venue’s role in the city’s international music identity, discussed how the venue is disability-friendly, and that building a city centered on sustainability must also include sustainability of culture.

After comments closed, most of the council members voiced their public support for saving The Showbox. Kshama Sawant, who put forth the original ordinance, stressed how the fight for The Showbox was a small battle over the soul of Seattle, and suggested that if the momentum behind the Save the Showbox movement could be harnessed for other social causes in the city, progressive measures — like the controversially nullified head tax — could succeed. Sawant left the council meeting early to rally with the Save the Showbox activists in the City Hall lobby.

Lisa Herbold discussed how Omni Group had been lobbying the City Council to delay the vote, but the proposal they presented as a “win-win” seemed to indicate plans to build something new music-related rather than preserve The Showbox.

The lone council voice that didn’t voice outright enthusiasm for the Save the Showbox movement (while still voting to approve the motion) came from Debora Juarez, who stressed that while everyone in the room was gathered to preserve what they perceive to be Seattle’s culture, Seattle’s real culture is that of its native people. She expressed concern about who gets to declare what culture is worth preserving.

Historic Seattle already had taken steps to help the venue prior to Monday vote. On Aug. 9, the organization submitted The Showbox for landmark designation. A press release from the group stated, “Historic Seattle has said several times that saving the Showbox is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. There are three elements to the group’s strategy: successfully landmark the Showbox; create policy solutions that can also help save the Showbox, and places like it in the future; and identifying a Showbox-friendly buyer, investor, or donor that can help address the property owner’s concerns over finding an offer at fair market value.

“The landmark nomination, while a victory in itself, is like coming to the end of the first mile. The effort to Save the Showbox still has a long way to go. In the coming weeks, we’ll be rallying the public behind the landmarks process, starting with the nomination hearing.”