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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It’s time to put a moratorium on new skywalk construction

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Spokane’s skywalk system was once the second-largest in the United States. It served its purpose for almost fifty years, but recently their presence has been more of a hindrance to the success of downtown than a benefit. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Spokane’s venerable skywalk system has served the city and the region for almost fifty years, allowing pedestrians the ability to cross between buildings without braving the elements. At one point, the system was the second-largest in the United States. Today, it features around sixteen of the above-street passageways. But while the system once received significant use (one 1984 study found 43,200 crossings in a single July day) and allowed small businesses to thrive in the second floor of downtown buildings, the skywalks today sit with minimal use.

Moreover, the skywalks harm downtown vitality, because they pluck pedestrians from the street, where they would improve the sidewalk environment. There are two major issues with this. First, more eyes on the street tends to lead to less crime and certainly less perception of crime. If you talk to some people, crime is the number one issue they refuse to go downtown. Second, because access to the skywalk system is controlled largely by the owners of the buildings that they connect, the skywalks at a certain level may separate well-heeled professionals and shoppers from the urban poor, the homeless, and the lower class. This creates a perception of vagrancy on the street level, and of course, it’s a huge ethical and social justice concern. The magic of the sidewalk is that it encourages social mixing, creating a public sphere which allows for interaction, communication, and learning.

But here’s the thing: we’re still expanding the skywalk system, despite the fact that it’s outlived its usefulness. Walt Worthy and the Public Facilities District in 2014 constructed a new skywalk to link the Davenport Grand and the Convention Center. And now, Cowles Company, the owner of the Spokesman-Review, KHQ, and River Park Square, intends to replace two sets of skywalks in the Macy’s Building, which it recently purchased. The second-floor skywalks to River Park Square and to the Parkade Building will be removed and replaced on the third-floor.

Why?

It’s great that Cowles Company intends to expand the downtown Spokane commercial district to the east, but we need to have a conversation about the skywalks. Especially in this case, they irreparably damage the beauty of a historic structure with many decades of history in Spokane. They harm downtown vitality. And especially in the case of the Parkade skywalks, which are not air conditioned or heated, offer no additional utility to pedestrians. It’s time for them to be removed.

So let’s have a conversation. Let’s issue a one-year moratorium on skywalk construction. During that time, we’ll have a long-term discussion about the future of the system. Will they be gradually removed over time? Will some of the skywalks, such as the skywalk from River Park Square to the Macy’s Building, or from River Park Square to the Crescent Court, be retained? Is there anything we can do to enliven the skywalks, or alternatively, encourage people to explore the street level?

We hope to see this conversation, but it’s only going to happen with swift action. Contact your City Councilmembers and ask them to consider a temporary skywalk construction moratorium.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Do you think we need to have a long-term discussion about the future of Spokane’s skywalk system? Do you use the skywalks? Do you think there’s a way to retain the skywalks but also improve downtown vitality on the sidewalks? And what do you think about the ethical and social justice implications? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments below, or in person. We love to hear from you!

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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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.