Major new mixed-use housing development proposed in the University District

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The developers behind the 940 North student housing building are back at it with the “University District Apartments” building, proposed for 230 N Division on the East End of downtown Spokane. The six-story building features significant architectural interest first-floor retail. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.com)

Last year, we heard that a developer was interested in constructing a 26-story condo tower at 230 N Division St, a former auto shop on a prominent site at the edge of the University District and the East End of downtown Spokane. The proposal seemed to be as serious as any in technical terms (planning documents featured relatively detailed architectural renderings), but unrealistic given the relative distance from the city’s central core and the not-altogether-great history of then-involved developer Lanzce Douglas.

Now, a new developer has submitted a Pre-Development Conference for a major development at that site. University Housing Partners of San Clemente, California already developed the already-popular 940 North project on Ruby. Now, the firm has proposed a six-story mixed-use project featuring five floors of housing aimed primarily at WSU Spokane and EWU Spokane students. The $20 million project would include 12,000 square feet of retail along both Spokane Falls Boulevard and Division Street, a critical factor in engaging the street level. 100 parking spots would be tucked behind the street as we suggested in our post on the original proposal for this site. And renderings (more after the break) feature significant architectural interest and color.

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Is the West End of Downtown Spokane the new East End?

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The former Otis Hotel building, along with the Commercial Building next door, is one of the final missing links in the redevelopment puzzle along the East End. A number of projects are proposed or underway in the growing downtown district. (PHOTO: historicspokane.org)

Yeah, it’s a somewhat counterintuitive question, given that during the revitalization wave that swept downtown Spokane during the early 2000s, it was the West End, and not the East End, that received a majority of the conversation. (The West End refers to the area roughly between Monroe and Maple along Sprague, Riverside, and First Avenue in downtown Spokane.) And why wouldn’t it? It’s near a significant arts corridor, including the historic Fox Theatre, the Bing Crosby Theatre, the Knitting Factory, and a number of other establishments. The area also was the original host of Terrain.

But the West End has also been plagued by significant challenges. The Commercial Building, the former SRO hotel which housed what was once bandied about as a promising Blu-Ray startup, now sits empty, still subject to lawsuits. Terrain moved to its new location in the Washington Cracker Company Building last year, which, while exciting, removed a night of significant attraction from the calendar. And the Otis Hotel continues to sit vacant, fenced-off, and unattractive, a relic of a scuttled RenCorp-organized condo redevelopment. (That building may be for sale.)

But on the other hand, there are significant signs of life on the West End that give us reason to believe that there may be an upward swing underway in the district. Here’s a list of the exciting and important projects ongoing on the West End.

1400 Tower || This project, from developer Mick McDowell, will construct a $20 million, 17-story condominimum building with 52 units. Plans include a three-story parking garage accessed from Peaceful Valley, a plaza on the Riverside Ave side, and luxury amenties.

West End Lofts || The Norman-Jefferson Building will be remodeled to include 10,000 square feet of first-floor retail and around 24,000 square feet of residential space on the upper floors, for a total of eight loft condos. This project lies at the opposite end of the block which also houses the former Otis Hotel building.

Steel Barrel and Zona Blanca || This exciting project includes a brewery incubator led by Steel Barrel Brewing and a ceviche bar, Zona Blanca, owned by famed chef Chad White. A number of other breweries will be sharing the space, including Young Buck and Little Spokane. This should lead to a brewery district of sorts, with River City Brewing, Iron Goat, Steam Plant, and Orlison nearby. NoLi Brewing also pondered opening a downtown taphouse last year, but we haven’t heard anything since.

Montvale Hotel and Montvale Hall || This block has been undergoing significant transition, with the addition of Brooklyn Deli, Gilded Unicorn, and a number of other establishments. With the new owner Jerry Dicker and Ruby Hospitality in control of the Montvale Hotel and the Oddfellows Building, expect renewed activity and significant renovations, including a new events center called Montvale Hall. Hopefully this new activity will spur redevelopment of the Music City Building, which formerly housed Terrain.

1207 W 1st Ave || Preliminary planning documents indicate a proposal for a restaurant in the building located at 1207 W 1st Ave, which currently houses storage for North by Northwest. No specifics are given including the type of restaurant, and a pre-development conference does not guarantee future development, but the applicant notes the intention to create an outdoor patio area on the site.

Certainly these projects and more indicate that there is a level of interest in the West End that hasn’t been seen since before the economic crisis. Hopefuly development in this area will continue to surpass expectations, and we’ll keep you posted as these projects move forward. Share your thoughts below in the comments on what you hope to see in the area next.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Are you seeing a renewed interest in the West End of downtown? Would you live or work in the area? Would you oepn a business there? Is there a building that you’d particularly like to see redeveloped, like the Otis Hotel? And what of the idea of a “brewery district?” Would you be a fan of such a development? Share your thoughts below in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you!

Almost one quarter of downtown Spokane is occupied by surface parking

There are 295 acres of surface parking in Spokane’s urban core.

There are only 1,250 acres of land in the urban core.

That means that 23.6% of all of the land in Spokane’s urban core is occupied solely by the temporary storage of motor vehicles.

If we assume a ridiculously-conservative average density of 25 units per acre, we could infill these parking lots with as many as 7,500 housing units. To put that in perspective, the full build-out of Kendall Yards will include just 1,000 units. (Just 300 housing units have been built in that neighborhood to-date.) Now, not every available block will be occupied by residences; other uses, like office, retail, public squares, civic spaces, are necessary as well. But it’s a useful thought exercise.

This is the next frontier of Spokane development. There’s more space available downtown for redevelopment than three Kendall Yards (which is an 83-acre site). With this much available space, there’s ample opportunity for creativity and innovation in the local development team.

Among other strategies, perhaps we could at the very least compile a comprehensive database of potential infill sites. This database should include information on the ownership of the various parcels, incentives available for redevelopment, and various statistics, like median income in the area, information on available utilities, and nearby amenities. In addition, include information on the planning and development process for these parcels. What type of permit review would be necessary? Would a SEPA application be required? Think of it as a more in-depth version of a site-selector. The result would be a much clearer development picture for developers and investors.

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26-story “Falls Tower” near University District promises to add around 200 units downtown

Here's a view of the proposed "Falls Tower" as it would look from Spokane Falls Boulevard. Note the large parking garage and comparatively narrow building. (PHOTO: Spokane Permits)

Here’s an early conceptual view of the proposed “Falls Tower” as it would look from Spokane Falls Boulevard. Note the large parking garage and comparatively narrow building. (PHOTO: Spokane Permits)

Back in November, a Spokane Valley dentist and developer, proposed a $50 million, 35-story high-rise at the corner of Division and Spokane Falls Boulevard in downtown Spokane. Many believed the proposal to be unlikely to ever come to fruition. But now, the lot at 230 N Division has resurfaced in a new proposal.

Lanzce Douglass has submitted an application to Spokane Development and Planning Services for a Pre-Development Conference on the proposal, which would construct a 26-story building which he calls “The Falls Tower.” It is unknown whether Philip Rudy, the dentist, is still involved. The new mixed-use high-rise would include 15,978 square feet of retail on the first floor, followed by about two dozen floors of apartments. That’s around 200 units (studios, one-bedrooms, and two-bedrooms). A six-story parking garage would also be constructed. In total, 26 floors would be constructed. Note the slightly more varied architectural style from Spokane’s most recent project, the Davenport Grand Hotel. Still, windows seem to follow a relatively generic form and minimal balconies or interesting architectural treatments are included.

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Let’s set an ambitious goal: 1,000 new downtown units by 2020

Boise’s downtown area is in the middle of an unprecedented surge in residential development, buoyed by a City Council goal of adding 1,000 new units by 2019. (PHOTO: Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman)

Boise’s City Council last summer did something pretty dramatic. In order to begin to fill demand for downtown housing, they announced a plan to award award grants and loan guarantees for apartments and condominiums in their downtown core. The goal? 1,000 new housing units within five years. Surprisingly, it’s not too ridiculous of an idea. Numerous developers have already jumped into the fray, planning to make use of special financing options, help with water and sewer from the local urban renewal agency, and of course, these grants.

It’s time Spokane set such an ambitious goal. 1,000 downtown units by 2020. Mark my words: we will make it happen. And we will do it with an attractive mix of housing options–from low-income apartments to luxury condominiums. Already Ron Wells plans to spend nearly $18 million remodeling the Ridpath Hotel into 200 low- and lower-middle income apartments and six luxury condominiums. Assuming this project reaches completion (Wells’ track record speaks for itself, although the Ridpath project has been plagued by delays), we’d be already one-fifth of the way to our goal. We could easily reach our goal if more developers jump on board. But they have to have some sort of incentive in place.

Adding residential to the mix downtown grows the population without increasing traffic or overburdening critical public services, like water, sewer, and fire protection. It adds more eyes to the street, reducing crime and making urban places more inviting for shoppers and residents alike. Suddenly the STA Plaza becomes an amenity, rather than a supposed eyesore. And perhaps most importantly, it grows the local economy by orders of magnitude. More residents downtown means more customers for local businesses like Nudo and Boots Bakery. It means more patrons at the Bartlett and more users on the Centennial Trail and in Riverfront Park. It means we’ll be better taking advantage of all that Spokane and the region has to offer. Moreover, study after study has proven that millennials and baby boomers alike prefer to live where all of their services are within easy walking distance. What better place than downtown?

Incentives need not be large. Boise is using a $150,000 fund from federal grants and lease payments on city-owned railroad right-of-way. Spokane certainly can find a chunk of money in its budget to make a similar investment. Perhaps a larger contribution or some creative development agreement could fill in the Rookery Block hole, or create a beautiful apartment/condominium complex across the street from a soon-to-be-revitalized Riverfront Park.

It’s time. Spokane is waiting. Having residents downtown pays long-term dividends. Let’s reinvest in downtown.

The most important downtown Spokane business

Currently, Rite-Aid is the most important business in downtown Spokane. At least, if we want to continue to grow our residential base. (PHOTO: ky24941 on Flickr)

Nope. You’re not blind. The most important business in downtown Spokane is Rite Aid. Much talk is given to Nordstrom and Macy’s and Apple, but if our goal is to increase the amount of people living downtown, then Rite Aid remains critically significant to the area’s long-term success. Why? No other store downtown offers such basic needs. Where else, for example, could you purchase a toothbrush at 9pm when you realize that you need a new one? (Answer: nowhere.) When deciding whether to live downtown, people don’t worry about shopping. Our downtown shopping scene is already excellent. They worry about where they are going to find basic needs: food, medication, supplies.

Indeed, in order to drive long-term success in attracting young professionals to live downtown, city leaders and businesspeople should be focused on bringing more basic retail to the area. Attracting a grocery store should be the number one priority. (In contrast to Mark Richard’s proposal to close the Spokane Public Library branch and insert large-format retail.) Local favorite Rosauer’s could explore an urban concept store, or Albertson’s could build a local version of “the market by Safeway” (Albertson’s will soon complete its Safeway purchase). But one thing’s for sure: basic needs trump outside desires in the new downtown.

What do you think? Is Rite Aid the most important business in downtown Spokane? Do you shop there? Live downtown? What would be your most important store? Where would you like to see a grocery store downtown? And which retailer would you like to see operate it? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. We love to hear from you.

KXLY makes a major last-sentence announcement: 150 downtown units

Prium Companies’ 153 S Wall development, proposed in 2006, originally contained 96 units. KXLY is reporting that a Spokane developer has plans for a 90-unit development somewhere downtown. But where? (PHOTO: Prium Companies)

Spokane local news has a history of making off-the-cuff announcements without much substantiation or explanation. However, we were still pretty surprised to hear their latest scoop: 150 housing units downtown. In their latest story about downtown development, they dropped this bombshell:

We’ve also received word construction will begin next month on a 60-unit apartment complex set between the University District and downtown. A different 90-unit complex is expected to be built downtown starting in January 2015.

Who’ll be building these units? And where? How? When? Who’s the contractor? The architect? KXLY’s story leaves us with little new information.

We think we’ve nailed down the 60-unit complex “between the University District and downtown,” and though their story makes it seem like a project for the East End/West Main area, all indications are that it will be located on Ruby (near Chipotle). But we’ll bring you more on that tomorrow.

The big news is the 90-unit development set “to be built downtown starting in January 2015.” Who are KXLY’s sources? What are they hearing? It could be anywhere, but considering the scale of some of the most recent major downtown apartment proposals, it could be as significant as 153 S Wall, a major downtown development by Prium Companies which was scuttled during the financial crisis but which originally sought to build 96 units. Time will tell, and we’ll keep you posted.

What do you think? Are you excited for the addition of 150 units to the downtown or North Bank areas? Do you have any more information on either the 60-unit or the 90-unit projects set to start construction soon? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.