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Preserving the Showbox: Councilmember Sawant to Bring Resolution, Urges Community to Keep Fighting

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle) responded to reports that the Showbox had been purchased by a corporate developer, who intended to build a high-rise apartment, with an open letter.

While the Vancouver-based Onni Group has signaled their intention to nominate the Showbox for landmark status, it remains unclear if that protection would be extended to the entire theater building, or just the facade, marquee or some other architectural feature.

In the letter, Sawant outlined her intentions to prepare a resolution for Council consideration, urging the Landmarks Preservation Board to preserve the Showbox (including its continued use as a music venue) as a landmark.  From the letter:

I have heard from many of you who are outraged to learn that a real estate developer intends to replace Seattle’s historic Showbox theater with a high-rise apartment building. This is yet another example of how development and construction decisions in Seattle are being driven primarily by whatever will make the quickest dollar for the largest for-profit developers, with little regard for the needs and desires of the rest of us.

Often it is affordable housing that we see demolished to make way for new luxury buildings that only the wealthy get to live in. In this case, it is a landmark of Seattle’s history and music that is on the chopping block. In both cases, Seattle is more and more becoming a playground for the rich, with little space for working people and for the culture that makes Seattle so unique.

Big developers have immense power in Washington state, but one possible point of leverage are Seattle’s landmark preservation laws. Because the Showbox has so much historic value, the Landmarks Preservation Board should agree to landmark it if they hear from a large enough community of people. However, the board often preserves only the outside of buildings, and in this case we need the Board to also preserve the music venue inside.

Sawant further indicated that while nominations to preserve the Showbox as a landmark can be initiated by filling out a form, the nominations are only one step, and will most likely not be enough.

“…The Showbox theater should not only be preserved on the outside, but also be maintained as a music venue,” wrote Sawant.  “In fact, the Onni Group, the corporation threatening the Showbox, has indicated they plan to nominate the building to the Landmarks Preservation Board. As a mega development corporation, Onni will no doubt hope that the Board will decide not to preserve any part of the building that will conflict with their multi-million-dollar development plans. We obviously hope, on the other hand, that Board will not just preserve the facade, but enable Seattle’s music community to continue to function at the venue. There are undoubtedly other locations where upscale apartments could be built, although what our city really needs is affordable housing.”

Sawant signaled her intent to prepare a City Council resolution by Monday, August 6 urging the Landmarks Preservation Board to preserve the Showbox inside and outside, and invited emails in support to be sent to the preservation board via email: sarah.sodt@seattle.gov.

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