Four items on our wishlist for the recently-purchased former Wonder Bread Building

The former Wonder Bread Factory is a gorgeous brick building primed for redevelopment located on the North Bank of the Spokane River. It recently changed ownership, and the new owners are interested in a new use for the building. (PHOTO: Multiple Listing Service)

Fresh off the news of a new residential mixed-use complex on the East End of downtown Spokane, and the release of the first renderings of a redeveloped Macy’s Building, the Spokesman-Review reports that the Wonder Bread Building on the North Bank of the Spokane River has changed hands. The handsome, historic brick warehouse has obvious character, which is why we named it our favorite block in Spokane, and the block with the most obvious potential for adaptive reuse.

The building, first constructed in 1909 and extensively remodeled in 1947, sold to an investment group named Wonder Spokane, LLC. Investors include Pete Mounsey, a Spokane native and resident of Denver, Colorado who most recently remodeled the Lincoln View Apartments on the lower South Hill with local architecture firm Nystrom + Olson. The group has no specific plans, but notes that mixed-use is a strong possibility. Zoning code would allow up to twelve stories on the site.

In the spirit of our recent Facebook post, jump after the break for our redevelopment wishlist.

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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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Idea #25: Convert visitors, students, and conference attendees into evangelists for Spokane

The Nest at Kendall Yards is an active, vibrant urban space that receives activation every day. Because this would not have even been imaginable just ten short years ago, it’s the type of space that exemplifies Spokane’s recent revitalization. (PHOTO: The Inlander)

If you follow Spokane Rising on Twitter, you know that a couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference in Buffalo, New York. The conference wasn’t related to the work done here, but it seemed that everywhere I turned, I was struck by a piece of inspiration that I would be able to bring back to this blog and to the Spokane community. Perhaps most pressingly, I was reminded of the necessity of taking pride in your community. Buffalo does this particularly well; having the term “Buffalove” certainly makes it easier. But there was at least one concrete piece from the conference opening keynote that we can bring back to Spokane: converting conference attendees and visitors into evangelists for the city. John J. Hurley, the President of Canisius College, delivered a speech that sung the praises of his city and his community.

There’s no reason we can’t do that here.

Let’s bring community leaders, university presidents, conference planners, and business leaders together. Let’s develop a framework for talking about the revitalization of Spokane. With the Davenport Grand, the recent Convention Center completion project, and nearly $1 billion in public investment to come within the next ten years, it’s time to sing the praises of our recent success. One thing that struck me about Hurley’s keynote at Canisius College was the way he inextricably linked the success of his school with the revitalization of his city. Why doesn’t the same happen at Gonzaga and Whitworth? Where’s the pride in WSU Spokane and EWU? Let’s build institutions which tie their identity directly to Spokane.

With conferences, we can work with organizers to develop a language for discussing Spokane. And let’s encourage them to include free days or arrival days for conference attendees to explore Spokane. When we send representatives of our city, whether from City of Spokane, Visit Spokane, Downtown Spokane Partnership, Greater Spokane Incorporated, or any other important local organization, let’s make sure they sing the praises of our city. Because the people with whom they speak will become evangelists for the city itself. Send them to Kendall Yards, to Browne’s Addition, to Coeur Coffee! Extol the virtues of Riverfront and Manito Parks! Exhort them to visit Flying Goat, South Perry, or the Community Block/East End. And then tell them to tell their friends, and for them to tell their friends. We have a lot to be proud of in Spokane, but there’s a lot to be said for making others excited about it as well.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Do you think that it would be a good idea to encourage visitors to explore Spokane to make them evangelists for the city? What types of programs could encourage local leaders and conference planners to sing the virtues of Spokane? Or should we just shamelessly tell people to tell their friends (I prefer this option)? Post your comments below, join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or talk to us in person. We love to hear from you.

Speaking of a grocery in a remodeled Sherwood Building…

Grocery is the major issue holding downtown Spokane’s housing expansion from reaching hyper-speed. So is the Sherwood Building’s remodel the solution? (PHOTO: Sherwood Plaza)

On Tuesday, I tweeted as part of the #insteadofsprawl campaign that a grocery store on the first floor of the Sherwood Building, which is currently being remodeled into Class A office space on the second floor and above, would help downtown continue to expand its housing options. Currently downtown doesn’t have a mainstream grocery store within easy reach by foot or bike, but adding one would encourage more people that downtown can be a viable option even for families.

Now we have this rendering of what a remodeled Sherwood might look like. While the rendering may not be indicative of specific tenants or plans, it certainly may illustrate some of the thinking of the owners. Perhaps Rosauer’s or another local grocer could develop plans for an urban-concept store. Time will tell, but we hope this rendering indicates a possible path forward for downtown.

The Value of Public Space in Urban Environments

“Pocket parks” like this one in New York City can create vibrant urban gathering spaces that entice passersby and residents alike. And they pay long-term economic dividends too! (PHOTO: Sustainable Cities Collective)

Urban Land reports on the importance of public spaces in making livable communities work. Specifically, the article focuses on the value of parks, gardens, rooftop gardens, and other spaces in urban environments, as well as the return that they generate. The High Line, in New York City, for example, cost the city $115 million in public funds and $44 million from the private sector, but increased boosted property values around the 1.5-mile elevated former freight rail line by as much as $2 billion and added 12,000 jobs to the local economy. That’s a killer ROI.

In addition, the article notes that safety and accessibility are key, as is adaptability. If the park or public space cannot be used for other purposes, then in many cases it may as well not be built. Hopefully the planners of the Riverfront Park Master Plan will keep this in mind when working on designs. We’ve also heard that the South Hill Coalition has some pocket parks and other small urban spaces up their sleeves as well, so perhaps we could see some nice urban spaces in neighborhoods in our future.

What do you think? Could Spokane use more urban spaces? What does the ROI for the High Line tell you about the economic potential of open space and public space investment? Share your comments here, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you!

Boise named a “Best City to move to”; What can Spokane do to land there?

Boise is thriving on a level which Spokane has not yet been able to attain. But we’re so similar to Boise that it shouldn’t be too far off. (PHOTO: Startup Boise)

Boise, Idaho, our perpetual rival and neighbor to the southeast, was just named by Simple Moving Labor as a “Best City to Move to in 2014.” This comes as Boise has been making national waves for its high quality of life, low cost of living, and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities (sound familiar?). Men’s Health, Livability.com, CNN Money, and the Brookings Institute have all recognized the city in recent years, and it’s clear that businesses are taking notice. The Idaho Statesman frequently reports on companies from local startups to big data firms locating in Boise, all locating there partially based on its high quality of life and low cost of living, as well as Idaho’s favorable business climate.

What can Spokane do to stay competitive?

“Boise embraces itself as a unique community,” Maryanne Jordan told KTVB. “We focus on a lot of local business, a lot of homegrown business. I think it’s a very diverse and inclusive community and that’s important. And you know … It’s beautiful. How can you not love it?”

Okay. So our inferiority complex doesn’t help. Better get off of that one. What else? Local business. We can do that. We have locally-grown companies big and small, from Boots Bakery all the way up to Itron. And Washington is frequently rated as one of the best states in the country in which to do business. We can provide some incentives. That might help. What about increasing quality of life? That might require some investment, but studies have shown that things like walking and biking trails, vibrant urban parks, and streetcar or light rail systems can spur long-term growth. These are obviously things that we need to start to look at.

But in the end, perhaps our inferiority complex looms even larger. We won’t get anything done until our city accepts that it is worth revitalizing, and I hope that with four distinctly beautiful seasons, a low cost of living, world-class outdoor recreation, and one of the world’s most beautiful urban rivers, residents realize the extreme potential which we are lucky to possess.

If It Had Happened, Part 1: 153 South Wall

PHOTO: Prium Companies

This Thursday we bring you Week 1 of a multi-week series focused on projects that would have happened had the economy not crashed. Many of the projects that we will profile were ongoing at the same time as each other, and as such, something had to give. There couldn’t be ten new major downtown high-rises at once, could there?

Indeed, there couldn’t.

Today we feature 153 South Wall, a project which was originally proposed in July of 2006 during the height of the downtown residential boom. The lot, purchased by Prium Companies of Tacoma for $750,000, would have been developed into 126 condominiums, with about seven floors of parking atop two floors of street front retail. In June of 2007, the project was shelved due to high construction costs. The lot was apparently sold to Inland Northwest Health Systems in July of 2009, although the site is still being used primarily as a parking lot.

Of course, this is exactly the type of infill project that Spokane so desperately needs, and we wish that it could have come to fruition.

To read more on 153 S. Wall, visit the Spokesman here or Prium Companies here. You can also see the Inlander here for a good article on the circumstances surrounding its shelving.