North Monroe might just be Spokane’s coolest urban district. It’s about to get even cooler.

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This draft design shows what the redevelopment and targeted investment might look like at Monroe and Montgomery. Note the wider sidewalks, more pedestrian-friendly environment, lighted crosswalks, and abundant on-street parking. (PHOTO: Land Expressions/City of Spokane)

North Monroe might just be the coolest urban district in Spokane. In addition to the abundance of hip shops, restaurants, and bars which have recently opened or relocated to the area, which stitches together the Emerson-Garfield Neighborhood, the corridor has for many years played host to one of the best collections of antique and vintage shops in Washington State. Between Boulevard Mercantile, Tossed & Found, 1889 Salvage Co., and many others, thrift shoppers and vintage enthusiasts have an abundance of options and opportunities to search for hidden treasures. In recent years, the district has also added a number of boutique retail and other shops, like Brickyard Barbershop and Kingsley & Scout.

But the real magic of North Monroe might not even be the craft coffee at Vessel Coffee Roasting, the craft beer at Bellwether, or the food at Prohibition. No, the real magic of North Monroe lies in its inherent contradictions. Like Spokane, it lies at the bleeding edge between the positively mundane and the relentlessly urban. Not content to pick just one, it embraces the past, present, and future all at once, playing host to vintage shops, craft coffee roasters and breweries, and the creative, positive Urban Art Co-Op. The district reflects the polarized nature of our city and our nation, as typified by both the aggressive, hostile signs seen in the windows businesses like Azar’s and the warm, welcoming spirit of the North Monroe Business District social media presence, which attempts to support all businesses in the area––not just the ones with which they agree. Like Spokane, North Monroe has one foot in each camp of the new urban divide, constantly questioning what it wants to become, while simultaneously exuding everything that’s hip, cool, artsy, and entrepreneurial about the city.

That might just make North Monroe our most interesting, coolest urban district in one of the coolest neighborhoods—Emerson-Garfield.

And now, thanks to the leadership of numerous highly-dedicated area residents, city staff, and our elected officials, this urban district is about to get a lot more attractive. The City of Spokane has announced that the North Monroe redevelopment will be moving forward as planned, with construction beginning in spring 2018. The project, which will add various pedestrian- and business-friendly features, such as wider sidewalks, curb bulb-outs, enhanced and widened parking, street trees, among other amenities, would create the opportunity for the district to evolve into an urban neighborhood on par with South Perry, Garland, or West Broadway. In addition, it will widen the traffic lanes while narrowing the street as a whole, going from four to three lanes total and making driving a more hassle-free experience. Taken together, these types of traffic improvements induce visitors to stay longer, spend more, and return more often. And stay more safe! For a vibrant urban district like North Monroe, that’s huge––and it will greatly benefit local business owners.

In the meantime, it will be critical for agencies and organizations like the City of Spokane, Spokane Transit, Avista, and all of the others which will be performing work associated with this project to perform broad, intentional outreach to affected business owners. Construction can take a significant toll on businesses, and it’s now on project supporters to prove that this is the right investment for the right time in Spokane history. The North Monroe Business District will also be performing outreach, and we encourage readers of this blog to patronize the affected businesses––even those which oppose this project––over the course of construction.

In addition, the City of Spokane should consider including a generous bonus in the construction contract for an early completion. This would entice the general contractors to speed up work––potentially even by working through nights and weekends––to complete the project has quickly as possible, minimizing impact on the businesses and organizations along the corridor.

In the end, though, North Monroe will certainly be better off for it. The coolest urban district in Spokane will become immeasurably cooler, and the businesses along the corridor will be the primary beneficiaries of easier access, increased and friendlier parking, and a more walkable urban environment that invites residents to participate in the community, rather than stay in their homes and cars. North Monroe may even surpass South Perry or Garland as a “destination neighborhood.” But even if it doesn’t, the Emerson-Garfield Neighborhood, the community, and the city will all gain. I am super excited to walk down North Monroe, grab a coffee at Vessel, keep wandering down the street through the local thrift and vintage shops, like Boulevard Mercantile, then finish with Happy Hour at Prohibition or Bellwether. And I hope you all are too.

COMING UP: This weekend, join neighborhood residents, community groups, and local nonprofits to brighten up and improve the North Monroe area at Cleaning from the Corridor. A number of teams will be volunteering in the district, and it gives you an opportunity to meet local business owners and community leaders as you improve the neighborhood. Find more information at the link above.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Is North Monroe the coolest neighborhood in Spokane? What’s your favorite business or restaurant in the district, and why? Are you excited about the planned revitalization and reconstruction of the street? And would you invest in the corridor, given the opportunity? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments below, or in person. We love to hear from you!

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Stellar adaptive reuse of the former Wonder Bread Building proposed

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Wonder Spokane, LLC has proposed a massive adaptive reuse of the former Wonder Bread Building on the North Bank of the Spokane River. The proposal would add a mostly-glass third story to the building and inject a market hall into the first floor, with office space above.

Here’s one I just couldn’t wait until Monday to share. Wonder Spokane, LLC has proposed a stellar, game-changing adaptive reuse of the former Wonder Bread Building on the North Bank of the Spokane River. The 111,000 square foot former bakery sits at 821 W Mallon Ave, directly across from the Spokane Arena. At its peak, the plant produced 500,000 pounds of bread products each week, until it closed in 2000. Now the investors of Wonder Spokane, LLC, apparently led by Denver lawyer and businessman Pete Mounsey, believe the building can be a promising site for redevelopment, as they’ve applied to attend a Pre-Development Conference* with the City.

Their version of the Wonder Bread Building would see it completely transformed and restored, adding a partly-glass third story and other unique amenities. The first floor of the historic building would occupied by a market hall concept much larger than Spokane’s only other existing market hall, Saranac Commons. The second and third floors, meanwhile, would be occupied by leasable office space, with an event space and rooftop patio on the third floor. In addition to the redevelopment of the historic building, the developer proposes an attractive-looking parking garage with two completely separate retail spaces on the west (Lincoln St) side. The sum total of these investments would be a complete revitalization of the North Bank of the river and significantly more life on this crucial corridor connecting the Spokane Arena with Kendall Yards. We look forward to hearing more details as the developer shares its plans.

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Idea #28: Bikeshare system

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Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare has been successful in enabling last-mile connections and easy tourist connections. It has also exceeded expectations in placemaking, remaking many of its station areas into plazas and new public space. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Across the country, bikeshare systems are adding to the array of multimodal and diverse public transportation choices while allowing an opportunity for private companies and vendors to capture a new market. In addition, these bicycle rental and subscription services can help to build new urban spaces, diverse and innovative squares, and centers for public life. Even a simple intersection can become a “place,” if enhanced with a bike station, benches, and perhaps curb bulb-outs or other streetscape enhancements.

It’s time for Spokane to join these cities.

Imagine the potential of a bikeshare system with stations in Browne’s Addition, the University District, near Gonzaga University, on Hamilton, in the Garland District, in the South Perry, and in multiple locations downtown. Imagine the potential of being able to grab a bike downtown and ride to grab a pizza at the Elk in Browne’s Addition, then take a Spokane Transit bus home. Imagine the potential of riding from the Garland District to Kendall Yards, and never having to worry about finding a bike rack or carrying a lock. Instead, you can just drop the bike at a station.

And bikeshare would take advantage of our growing bicycle infrastructure in Spokane, including added bike lanes on Main Avenue and other area roads and streets. It could help to grow Spokane’s bicycle culture from niche to mainstream. And that’s something that could benefit us all, through a more active streetscape and a greater availability of alternative commuting options.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Would a bikeshare system work in Spokane? Where would you like to see a station? Do you see bikeshare as a viable option for commuting, or more of an alternative for tourists and convention guests? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you!

Spokane is a city of districts. Here’s how to realize their potential.

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The Garland District, in Spokane’s North Hill neighborhood, is one of its oldest urban districts, and one of its most beloved. But what could be done to highlight the many and varied urban districts which make up our city? (PHOTO: Garland District)

Spokane is a city of districts.

Garland. South Perry. Browne’s Addition. North Monroe. University District. North Bank. Hillyard. East Sprague. Lincoln Heights. Southgate. Indian Trail. Northwest. West Central. Peaceful Valley. Rockwood. Logan.

In more ways than one, Spokane is more of a city of districts than we realize. Perhaps it’s a result of the way they developed. Some of the neighborhood districts began as separate cities, like Hillyard. Perhaps it’s a result of their present situation. Some of the “urban” districts don’t seem “urban” at all. Many of them are seas of surface parking, wider-than-necessary streets, and near-to-nonexistent pedestrian facilities. Occasionally there are crime issues, or little in the way of retail, or no transit service. Almost always, these urban districts are purely commercial; they don’t contain any residential units. And there’s rarely a “there” there. The urban districts don’t seem to be anything special because they aren’t yet seen as places in their own right.

But we can change that. Here’s how.

1. Mix up the uses. As noted above, most of Spokane’s urban districts are, in essence, commercial districts. There’s little in the way of housing, aside from the single-family residential areas which often surround them. For these districts to thrive, they need more people, and that means apartments, condos, and townhomes. There’s certainly enough space. We know that Spokane will see demand for 3,000 more units over the next three years. Let’s make sure that as many of those units are in urban districts as possible.

2. Get rid of parking minimums. Parking minimums essentially require a certain amount of parking per square foot. They’re in place in most urban districts, but they should be abolished. These regulations result in more parking than is necessary, and parking takes up valuable space that otherwise could be used for more housing, retail, or other development. And perhaps most importantly, they harm urban vitality and walkability, and they make the districts driving destinations, rather than walking destinations, which relates to the next point.

3. Feet first. Develop these urban centers with a focus on walkability first. These areas should primarily serve not the entire Spokane community, but the local neighborhoods. That means that there should be a strong sidewalk network, curb bulb-outs, and street trees. Traffic calming, combined with pedestrian improvements, will improve the sense of place and make the district more desirable.

4. Build a sense of place. Beyond those strategies can be above, this can be achieved with relatively simple steps involving minimal investment. Things like trash cans, a fresh coat of paint, better crosswalks, benches, bike racks, and lower speed limits can go a long way. Beyond that, wayfinding and entry signage can better distinguish the area from its surroundings. For more money, a district could opt for streetscape enhancements, public squares (Garland has amazing potential for this!), or perhaps signature features, like neon lighting.

5. Let businesses band together. East Sprague recently created a Business Improvement District (BID) as part of the City of Spokane’s Targeted Investment Pilot program. The BID will essentially organize and tax local businessowners to provide services, like street tree maintenance, graffiti removal, wayfinding, and other maintenance improvements. It will also advertise and market the district, both to developers and to Spokane residents. Other districts, like Garland and North Monroe, should have the opportunity to create their own business improvment districts. That way, businesses will be able to take on more of their own revitalization. And even if these organizations aren’t BIDs, simple associations could unify the districts’ messages and marketing.

6. Create sub-area plans for each district. The Logan District on the Hamilton Corridor recently completed planning for the Hamilton Form-Based Code, which essentially is a subarea plan for the area around Mission and Hamilton. We need to develop subarea plans for each of the urban districts, highlighting plans for the next twenty-five years in Garland, the North Bank, West Broadway, and Hillyard. Some areas already have these plans in place. Others don’t. In all cases, however, there hasn’t been much in the way of implementation. Let’s fix that.

7. Work with developers. It’s time for Neighborhood Services to develop a clear, coherent strategy for partnering and finding or creating incentives for developers. Ideally, this would focus on multifamily apartment units with streetfront retail. Incentives need not be large. Even “fast-tracking” the planning process can be an incentive. But the fact is that we need to work with developers to revitalize our urban districts. Neighborhood Services, because it has deep experience in each neighborhood, would be well-placed to act as this bridge between residents and investors.

8. Grow small business. South Perry wouldn’t be South Perry without The Shop, or South Perry Pizza, or Perry Street Brewing. Garland wouldn’t be Garland without the Milk Bottle. North Monroe wouldn’t be North Monroe without the Boulevard Mercantile. And West Central wouldn’t be West Central without Batch Bakeshop. Many of these businesses were catalysts in their respective neighborhoods’ revitalizations. In order for the districts to thrive, we need to make things easy for small, local business. Can you imagine if we offered microloans or other incentives? Can you imagine if we eased businesses in urban districts through permitting processes, making opening a business faster and less expensive? We need to find a way to concentrate local business in these centers. This could be how.

9. Triage potential infill sites. Develop a comprehensive database of potential infill sites within urban districts. Include all of the relevant information: current ownership, zoning, associated incentives, property value, property tax rates, infrastructure maps, median incomes, (in some cases) daily traffic, and area vacancy rates. Make the database public. But hire a staffer or two at the City of Spokane to maintain the database and work with developers to negotiate and develop properties. You know, economic development work. Ideally, this work would come with a budget and the ability to create new incentives. Limit the work at first to the urban districts. Call it a pilot project. In the future, it could be expanded city-wide.

Revitalizing and recapturing every urban district in Spokane will take an extreme level of vision, foresight, and cooperation on the part of all stakeholders. It will also take some risk-taking on the part of private individuals and developers. But if it pays off, even in just a few areas, the result will be a more vibrant, more exciting Spokane for everyone.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Is Spokane a city of districts? Do you think that any of these strategies could help recapture and reinvent our urban districts into vibrant, exciting urban places for all? Would you live in an urban district? Which one’s your favorite? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the comments below. We love to hear from you.

Creating a sense of place on North Monroe (NoMo?)

Hoffman Music on North Monroe is a great music store in a terrible building. The current window-less design limits pedestrian interaction and contributes to blight in the area. (PHOTO: Yelp)

Here’s a difficult brainstorming exercise: how can neighborhood leaders and developers work together to create a sense of place on North Monroe? With the area currently serving primarily as a “drive-through” area between downtown and the north side, and a four-lane street with narrow sidewalks limiting pedestrian access, similarities might be drawn to the Hamilton corridor.

Except here, there are old buildings. Historic brick buildings. Like the Jenkins Building, which is set to get underway soon with 10-16 likely-affordable units. There’s a real history here, with great streetfront properties primed for revitalization. With Kendall Yards underway, perhaps it’s time for North Monroe to revisit its plans?

What do you think? Could North Monroe use some TLC? What could be done to help create a sense of place in the area? Streetscape improvements? A road diet, perhaps? What about a leg of a downtown streetcar? Then there are always PR options. We’ve always thought the “NoMo District” title could catch on. Maybe not, though (too similar to “no more”?). What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in person. We love to hear from you.

Signs of life on North Monroe

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North Monroe’s Jenkins Building has a new owner with his eye set on major improvements. (PHOTO: Google Street View)

Add 10-16 units to the “under construction” or “proposed” downtown or near-downtown housing totals. The Spokesman-Review is reporting that the Jenkins Building, home to Alpine Bistro and Bakery, will be extensively remodeled and refurbished by new owner Mark Agee. Agee is the CEO of Pamiris, an HR management and payroll information systems company he started with his wife, and is well-known in the local community for his service to the low-income population.

The building, at 802 N Monroe, dates to 1910 and features both retail and office space. The upper two floors will be converted to 10-16 apartments, likely in keeping with Agee’s strategy of providing low-income housing for chronically underserved populations. An elevator will be added, and Alpine Bistro will remain. Regardless, the addition of new residents to this area of Spokane reminds us of 2007 plans to improve the streetscape on North Monroe. That plan called for traffic calming, tree islands, improved intersections, and a general revitalization a la South Perry. It should be interesting to see if those plans are revisited with the new redevelopment.

What do you think? Are you excited for the addition of new residents to the North Monroe area? Does this revitalization of a historic building bode well for the cause of historic preservation? Share your thoughts in our comments section below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.