Sawant and Historic Seattle lay out plans to try to save the Showbox

SEATTLE — One of the city’s most vocal housing advocates is fighting to stop a project that would tear down the Showbox music venue and build high-rise housing.

“The Onni Group has not talked about affordable housing,” Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant said. “These are upscale units.”

Surrounded by signs urging, “Save the Showbox,” Sawant laid out her plan to do just that, including a resolution urging the city’s landmark board to nominate the 79-year-old music venue for landmark status.

“The Showbox is an iconic venue,” she said.

“We are also working on an ordinance to extend the boundaries of the Pike Place historic district to encompass the Showbox,” she added.

Icons like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters have played at the concert site on 1st Avenue. So have Pearl Jam and Coldplay.

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A petition started one week ago, after Canadian developer Onni announced plans to build a 44-story residential tower there, has been signed by more than 84,000 people.

Eugenia Woo, Director of Preservation Services at Historic Seattle, said she was hoping for a strong show of support from the city.

“Basically, the message should be, ‘Hands off the Showbox!’” she said.

The developer has said it plans to nominate the Showbox for landmark status, but Woo called that a negative or anti-nomination.

“It may downplay the significance and also focus on things like the lack of physical integrity that they think the building might have,” she said.

Woo said that’s why it’s so important that the community attend the nomination meeting once the application has been reviewed and speak out about the Showbox's history and importance.

Historic Seattle is helping lead a campaign to save the venue.

KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked her about a 2007 city survey that determined the Showbox would not qualify for landmark status.

“Do those findings complicate it getting landmark status?” Sheldon asked.

“I don't believe so. The downtown survey was done at least 12 years ago,” Woo said. “Things have changed in 12 years. A lot of the surveys, they just look at the surface. The exterior. Truly, the facades. It doesn’t look at, really, a deep history of the place.”

KIRO 7 reached out to the developer on Wednesday and did not hear back.

Historic Seattle said even if the Showbox gets landmark status, that doesn't preserve its use. Sawant said she is also researching possible legislation that would allow the landmark board to preserve use as well, so it couldn't just become a restaurant or bar.  Historic Seattle said it is looking for investors who could possibly buy the Showbox and preserve it.