Saving the Showbox could come at a major cost, as the property owner is now suing the City of Seattle for the $40 million in potential losses from a sale of the property for redevelopment.
First reported by Crosscut, the lawsuit was filed on Aug. 31, about three weeks after the Seattle City Council voted to provide the Showbox with protections by expanding the Pike Place Market Historic District to include the 102-year-old building.
That 10-month temporary action was meant to buy the city time as it considered and studied other options for preserving the prolific music venue amid public outcries following reports that Vancouver-based Onni Group had filed plans to replace the Showbox with a 44-story apartment tower.
Showbox property owner Roger Forbes, under his 1426 First Avenue LLC., argues the council violated his property rights by singling out the site for a spot zone that prohibited redevelopment, which had been his intent for the property when he purchased it for $2.86 million in 1997.
“This was accomplished by down zoning the property — and just that one property — from an allowed 440 foot building to being essentially frozen in time by including it in the Pike Place Historic District (where it does not belong or fit) based only on public passion to keep the Showbox in its current configuration and continued use as a music performance hall,” reads a portion of the lawsuit against the city.
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office has yet to answer the complaint.
"We’re reviewing the complaint, and we look forward to making our arguments in court,” wrote City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Dan Nolte in response to a request for comment by MPT.
The Save the Showbox campaign received support from a number of organizations and musicians, including Death Cab for Cutie lead singer Ben Gibbard, and District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant spearheaded the plan to include the property in the Pike Place Market Historic District. However, the lawsuit alleges she and several other councilmembers showed prejudice in their discussions regarding efforts to “Save the Showbox,” and skirted procedural requirements prior to downzoning the property, including a land use public hearing. Sawant told MPT on Aug. 5 she was waiting to hear from city legal counsel as to whether she would be able to comment on the lawsuit.
“When politicians cater to populist calls — whether those calls are ‘lock her up,’ ‘build the wall,’ ‘ban Muslims,’ or ‘Save the Showbox’ — civil and other rights are placed at risk,” the lawsuit states. “Populism, and politicians’ desires to appease their loudest constituents and generate headlines must, however, yield to the rule of law. Luckily for those who prefer protection of civil, constitutional and property rights, the courts exist to preserve, protect and enforce the rule of law.”
Attorneys for Forbes argue the city never included properties on the east side of First Avenue in the historic district, neither when it was created in 1974, nor during subsequent expansions over the years. The city also made no attempt to purchase the Showbox property, as it had with “Historic Market properties” back in the ‘70s.
“Instead, the City Council, to enhance its political popularity, enacted an unlawful ordinance that was intended to, and did, place all the burden of providing a public music venue to City residents onto the shoulders of a private landowner,” the lawsuit states. “The ordinance greatly and instantly devalued the property and will scuttle its redevelopment unless the City’s improper spot down zone is declared unlawful.”
The $40 million in damages is what Forbes expects to gain through a development purchase and sale agreement, which Onni will cancel if the property is not pulled out of the historic district, and Forbes is also seeking to have the city cover his attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit also argues the city is violating the owner’s First Amendment right, “compelling speech” by forcing Forbes to allow the Showbox to continue operating as a music venue.
The lawsuit states city councilmembers in favor of the temporary designation of the Showbox as part of the Pike Place Market Historic District also rejected Onni’s “idea of potentially building a new performance space within the new development.”
There is a Showbox SoDo venue, which the lawsuit states was opened because business operator Jeff Steichen — now AEG Live — knew as far back as 1997 that the 1426 First Avenue property would eventually be razed for redevelopment, the lawsuit states.
Currently, the Showbox property is valued at more than $12 million for the land and just $1,000 for the building, which the lawsuit states is an unreinforced masonry building at risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake.
Showbox Lawsuit by branax2000 on Scribd