Image: Landon Groves

Seattle council members violated constitutional rights when they passed a bill to deliberately preserve the Showbox as a music venue, the property owner said in a new lawsuit against the city. And council members have left the space, "essentially frozen in time."

Crosscut broke the news that the Showbox's owner filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court on Friday, which seeks $40 million in damages if the city preserves the property as a music venue. 1426 First Avenue LLC, a company registered in Nevada and managed by Seattle-based Roger Forbes, alleges that the city violated the Showbox's constitutional rights. The company also filed a land-use petition.

Seattle council members in August passed a bill that expanded the Pike Place Market Historic District to include the Showbox for 10 months. After community outcry, the move was aimed to block the property's sale to Vancouver, B.C.-based Onni Group, a real estate development company that planned to turn the 79-year-old music venue into high-rise apartments. 

Preservationists and community members had turned to council member Kshama Sawant, who took up the "Save the Showbox" cause. The plan was two-fold, to pass the temporary bill to make the building a part of the historic district while nominating the building for landmark status. Council members then planned to revisit the issue to come up with a way to preserve the venue long term. 

The lawsuit from the company argues that the city violated its free speech rights by preventing use of the property as anything other than a music hall. The complaint also said that the building was reviewed for potential landmark status in 2007 but was found to have lacked any landmark features, that it's been remodeled several times in the past few decades, and that it's vulnerable to earthquakes. 

"Suddenly now, and through the gerrymandered mechanisms described below, the city is spot zoning this one property and declaring that the building be saved, be operated as a performance venue in perpetuity" at the expense of the owner, the complaint said. 

The complaint also specifically called out council members Lisa Herbold for rejecting a new performance space offered by the developer and Sally Bagshaw for saying they'd use every tool available to preserve the hall—both comments they made during the council meeting on August 13. It said the city has also benefited from real estate taxes collected from the building, an estimated $354,000 paid by the owner.

The lawsuit also criticized efforts to preserve the Showbox by comparing it to comments made by president Donald Trump as both ways to "appease their loudest constituents." 

"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 complaint said. 

"We’re reviewing the complaint, and we look forward to making our arguments in court," city attorney spokesperson Dan Nolte said in an emailed statement.

Herbold said it's not the first time a property owner objected to an expansion of the Pike Place Market Historic District; in 1989, the city successfully added a parcel to the district despite opposition from its owner, the PDA, who wanted freedom to develop the site.

Sawant and Bagshaw didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Updated 11am on September 6, 2018, to include a comment from Herbold. 

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