Music News

Plot twist: Showbox owner sues Seattle

There’s been a lot of talk about the Showbox in Seattle this summer, as a Vancouver-based developer announced its intent to knock the building down and put up a 40-floor apartment complex.

Artists at the heart of the city’s still-vibrant music scene rose up and demanded something be done to save the venue, one of the important places in the history of grunge and other genres of music that have been grown and nurtured in the Pacific Northwest over the past 30 years. The city council passed a temporary order, extending the historic preservation zone that encompasses Pike Place Market to extend to its neighbour across the street.

But now the building’s owner, Roger Forbes, is suing Seattle.

The Seattle Times reports an LLC controlled by Forbes filed suit last week, arguing that the city “failed to follow procedural requirements” when it passed the historic protection expansion ordinance. It also claims the rezoning is a “discriminatory spot zone.”

The protection awarded to the Showbox property is only good for 10 months, however; the council approved it to provide some time to determine whether the theater should receive historic landmark status – something activists are already working to secure.

“The city’s action is fundamentally inconsistent with the property’s location and deteriorated state, inconsistent with the development of the Pike Place Market in the 1970s and inconsistent with the rights of the property owner,” the lawsuit says. It adds that the Showbox has been passed over for landmark status previously, several times, and that the property has been “upzoned twice since 2006, including last year when the area’s maximum building height was increased from 40 stories to 44.”

And in a rather staggering comment, the lawsuit compares the “save the Showbox” cries to those used by the Trump campaign and administration – whose supporters regularly shout “lock her up,” “build the wall” and other awful things during his ongoing rallies. “Populism, and politicans’ desires to appease their loudest constituents and generate headlines must, however, yield to the rule of law,” the lawsuit says. (WOW.)

In the meantime, a radio station in Seattle is wading into the debate, saying that just because the building is nostalgic and beloved doesn’t mean is should be saved.

“Aesthetically or historically it’s really not important, so we get into a value argument,” said KIRO host John Curley. “The value is determined by who’s willing to pay for it.”

The station mentioned a similar case, in 2002, of some modified garages that were built in the 1920s but later renovated into a recording studio where Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice and Chains had sessions. Those buildings are set to be demolished and replaced with another apartment tower.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 516 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

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