Mobile Murals site at 3rd and Division apparently set for pseudo-strip mall

The proposed development at 3rd and Division eschews any attempt at an "urban form," instead falling back on more suburban-style amenities and features, such as 46 parking spaces. (PHOTO: Spokane Planning's Citizen Access System)

The Santillanes’ proposed development at 3rd and Division eschews any attempt at an “urban form,” instead falling back on more suburban-style amenities and features, such as 46 parking spaces. (PHOTO: Spokane Planning’s Citizen Access System)

First, the good news: it appears that the Mobile Murals won’t need to be around 3rd and Division for much longer, as a local developer plans to break ground on a new project there. Now, the bad news: said project will eschew any semblance of urban form in favor of a more suburban, strip mall-esque design.

Recall that local hoteliers Rita and John Santillanes, planning to build a Best Western Peppertree, purchased the lot in 2008 and moved quickly to demolish the existing Lutheran church that was on the premises. Funding fell through late in the year when Bank of Whitman collapsed. It never returned. Last year, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, City of Spokane, and Spokane Arts partnered, and along with other community groups like Spokane Rising, built temporary murals to create a more vibrant and exciting gateway to downtown than the rebar and concrete that had plagued the site for the preceding six years.

Now, Santillanes says she’s ready to restart development at the site. It won’t be a hotel; the nearly-complete Davenport Grand scuttled those plans. Instead, the two have planned a $2 million two-story mixed office/retail building, which will become the home of operations for their four Best Western Peppertree Inns. Office space will occupy the second floor, while Brooke Baker, of the presumed contractor, Baker Construction, hopes to find a fast casual restaurant (a la Chipotle) to occupy one of the several ground-floor retail slots. Great news, right? After all, now the lot won’t be filled with ugly urban decay and the Mobile Murals can move on to another unsightly empty lot.

Wrong. See the above tentative site plan from the Pre-Development Conference hosted with the City of Spokane’s Planning & Development Services Department. Note that the building is set back from the corner at 3rd and Division, features an obscene 46 parking stalls, includes a drive-through window, and includes few if any urban design elements. Now, we have not yet seen renderings, but as it stands, the design is “standard” in every sense of the term. Moreover, it conflicts with the principles set forth in the Division Street Gateway project, which seeks to improve pedestrian access/safety and beautify Spokane’s most important intersection. We can’t help but feel that this project flies in the face of those goals.

Luckily, there’s a simple fix. All Santillanes must do to improve the building, create a better pedestrian experience, and ensure that downtown Spokane does not become an extension of East Sprague or North Division, is construct this building to the corner, with parking in the rear. It’s a simple fix, but it’s one that would work, and it’s one that would make a difference for times to come in visitors’ first impressions of Spokane. Construction is anticipated to begin in May. Can we make a difference? Shout loud and clear to your nearest City Councilperson (click on the name of yours for contact information) that you think downtown Spokane deserves better. Contact the Planning Department directly. Or, better yet, the developers, Rita and John Santillanes. We can build a better downtown. The first step? Refusal to accept continued mediocrity.

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10 thoughts on “Mobile Murals site at 3rd and Division apparently set for pseudo-strip mall

  1. Exactly. Strong, self-sustaining downtowns rely on good urban ‘fabric’, with buildings (and the liveliness they shelter) placed alongside public rights-of-way. Easy access for cars? Sure, but design for people and pride of place comes first.

  2. This is a great point – thanks for picking this up. It is disappointing that at the gateway of the division street gateway we would end up having another building like the starbucks building on 2nd and division.

    • The number one thing is to contact the developers, Rita and John Santillanes. City Council has limited coercive power, but if we can convince the developers of the benefits of constructing the building to the street, then our case will be won.

      If you contact them, be sure to note your excitement that they’re filling in the pit and creating a more pleasant entrance to Spokane. Explain the benefits of building up to the corner (forms a stronger statement, calms traffic, enhances the streetscape, enhances the pedestrian experience, increases the building’s value). Strongly urge them to consider this change as a simple fix to make downtown (and their development) even more inviting. And be sure to thank them for the consideration and for working together with the community to enhance the intersection both in the past (Mobile Murals) and in the future.

  3. While your engaging City Council members and/or Planning Commission members, perhaps a simple zoning code amendment for the downtown: Maximum front setback: 0. And: In no case shall any portion of primary lot frontage be developed with surface parking. Confession: not from Spokane but like the place and the folks there. And, what potential! Great site, BTW.

    • Thanks for the comment. I believe that said requirements already exist in the DTC (Downtown Core) zoning area, but not not in the DTS (Downtown South) area where this site is located. It’s unfortunate; in many cases in the Spokane Comprehensive Plan the zoning is set up to match what already exists for a site rather than for what the site should become. Makes sense to increase certainty for property owners, but it certainly does choke out aspirational, visionary thinking in the centers and corridors.

      Glad you like the site. Visit often and tell your friends. Spokane’s potential is what inspires us to envision a brighter future for our city. 🙂

  4. You can shout as loud as you want, but without amendments to the code, the developer does not have to do anything, its called property rights (even if I don’t agree with the god awful design).

  5. Does anyone have any information on how to contact the developers so we can voice our opinion on how terrible this project is for that lot?

  6. Following up on Danny’s comment. What is the status of this project? Were letters to the elected effective? Are we going to get a eyesore for a entrance to Spokane just after we invested 500k in parking funds on the new Division Street entrance project?

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