A closer look at three important ways to improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan

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This is the site plan for the Jensen-Byrd District, as proposed by JB Development, a partnership between Wally Trace and McKinstry. A few changes would dramatically improve the development plan for the site, making it more inviting for the next fifty-plus years. (PHOTO: jensenbyrd.com)

When the Jensen-Byrd District plan was revealed in full for the first time last week, we rightfully noted the spectacular form and scale that the plan took. At 250,000 square feet, it’s the largest downtown Spokane development in nearly a generation. And by including space well-suited for high-tech and biotech companies, it could mark a turning point in Spokane’s overall economy.

But it’s important to note also that the site plan has some significant pain-points, challenges which we expect to be resolved before the developer is granted a building permit. It’s easy to forget that once a building is built, it’s likely to remain there for at the very minimum, fifty years (well, most of the time). That’s why we need to ensure that this development is held to a high standard: the University District is intended to drive Spokane’s economy in the 21st century and beyond. To create a place fit for the next fifty-plus years, we need to do better than the current plan. Here are some concrete steps to making that happen.

1. Create a better, more inviting, and more distinct north landing for the University District Pedestrian Bridge. In the current plan, a pedestrian crossing the bridge northbound will land facing the parking garage, where it’s unclear whether there will be a clear path forward to the Jensen-Byrd Building itself. At this landing, there should be some wayfinding information, as well as other active space, such as retail on the first floor of the parking garage. Imagine an inviting cafe or coffeehouse with outdoor seating and programmable space. There should also be an easy path through the parking garage to the Jensen-Byrd. (It appears that there may be an alleyway of some kind for this purpose; how could this alley be made more inviting for pedestrians? Overhead lights? Restaurant space a la Mizuna?)

2. Develop a phased master plan for the overall site, including development for the surface parking lots included in the current site plan. There’s zero justification for the surface parking lots to remain on the site plan, given the 450-space parking garage included in the first phase. This land would be better put to use in the interim as open space or public parkland; in the future, it should be developed to support the continued growth of the University District. As of now, however, we don’t know when or whether that will happen. This planning and building approval process should include specific planning for these sites.

3. Repave the section of Main Street in front of the Jensen-Byrd Building with brick, and close it to vehicles, to create a more inviting pedestrian landscape and a plaza of sorts for events and special occasions. Even if the street is not closed to vehicles, it would be more vibrant, more interesting, and more programmable if paved with brick. Imagine Friday food truck gardens or Saturday farmers’ markets on this site. Paved with brick, this could become a huge selling point to any potential tenant of the Jensen-Byrd District development.

Overall, these three changes could go a long way toward improving the Jensen-Byrd District plan. It’s unclear what degree of flexibility to public comment the developers will have, but it’s worth a shot. Fortunately, it’s likely that design review will be required for this project. We will share information on public comment when it becomes available.

In the meantime, your best bet to offer feedback for the project is to use the comment form on the development’s website. Be sure to select “other” for the contact category so it’s directed to the right people. Perhaps we can make a difference in improving this project.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Would these improvements help improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan to make it more future-proof and vibrant? Would you approve of a better connection from the Pedestrian Bridge, given the large amount of public funding going to that project? What about brick paving for Main Ave? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments below. We love to hear from you!

 

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What millennials want–and why Spokane should cater to them

Walkability can help make or break a city as a vital, energetic, and vibrant place to live, according to the millennials that Spokane needs to attract. So why do we keep investing in policies created by Baby Boomers? (PHOTO: BethesdaNow.com)

We’re always saying that in order to succeed, Spokane needs to take time and energy to attract a key demographic: young, urban professionals. But what does it take to do that?

Millennials are markedly different from their parents in a number of ways, from dress to music to cultural attitudes. But perhaps most tellingly, millennials desire different things from their homes. Where the Baby Boomers originally valued safe, affordable homes in the suburbs, research reveals that more and more millennials wish to live in the type of mixed-use communities that Spokane needs to succeed. According to new data reported by The Atlantic CityLab, these young people are primarily concerned with four issues: walkability, good schools and parks, excellent public transportation, and new technology.

Sound familiar? We’ve been advocating these causes for months.

Unfortunately, it seems that Spokane currently caters more toward Baby Boomers than to Millennials. Our development policies favor large, suburban tracts on the urban fringe, as opposed to live-work communities like Kendall Yards. Public transportation and bicyclists constantly deal with the scorn of those who believe more money should be spent on roads. And while our schools continue to improve, they are not making the type of calculated investments needed to take area education to the next level.

So let’s invest. Let’s build a streetcar, a trolley, a light rail. Let’s improve our bike lanes, our crosswalks, our pedestrian trails. Let’s incentivize infill, and work with developers to craft creative plans for increasing density. Let’s make sure our schools have the proper tools to teach, from smaller class sizes to new curricula and learning methodologies. Let’s bring entrepreneurship and innovation to the high schools, the middle schools, and even the elementary schools, encouraging students and fostering a culture of creativity. Let’s improve Riverfront Park, adding new features for accessibility and new community gathering places under the Pavilion. Let’s create a city-wide fiber-to-the-home initiative, bolstered by the local business community. These investments have tangible returns and have proven to show real-world results. With them, we could become the number one city in the country for millennials. Seriously. Let’s take some time to make this happen.

Investment first. Then returns. That should be the strategy moving forward.

What do you think? What could the Spokane area be doing to attract more millennials? How do you think our policies line up with the perspectives of millennials? How could we become the #1 city in America for millennials? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments below, or in person. We love to hear from you.

How to fix Spokane’s “brain drain”

Biology and bioengineering labs are a critical component to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) education. What if Spokane offered scholarships to local students interested in pursuing STEAM? (PHOTO: Noll & Tam)

Spokane has a “brain drain” problem. Currently, many of our brightest high school seniors choose colleges and universities located on the coast, in cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, or in the east, in areas like, New York, Massachusetts, and the Washington, D.C. area. (For example, this blogger attends Santa Clara University in the Silicon Valley.) That would be fine if those students moved back to Spokane upon graduation. But they don’t.

Typically, these students leave Spokane when they turn 18 and don’t come back, perhaps partially because in-routes to established companies, economic opportunity, and culture are seen as more plentiful in those larger, more established cities. There’s “more to do,” more “people like me,” and “more jobs.” (Or so people think.) The brain drain continues.

But what if we had a way to end it?

We talk a lot in this community about bonds and levies. These tax measures are designed to allow for infrastructure investment, parks and recreation improvements, road construction, and school renovations. A small levy, or even a large grant from a charitable organization, however, would be enough to make a big difference in our “brain drain” problem.

Let’s offer any high school senior in Spokane who wishes to pursue a career in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) a $5,000/year college scholarship. In return, the student would agree to move back to Spokane for a period of at least three years post-graduation (with postponement available for years of service and graduate school). Simple. Easy. These fields are constantly cited as the types of industries which our city must attract in order to remain competitive in the 21st century. So let’s do something about it. Let’s encourage students to go into STEAM fields. Let’s encourage students to move back to Spokane. Let’s grow our local economy by leaps and bounds.

The best part is that this type of measure need not be expensive. A levy the size of the roads levy planned for the November ballot, for example, would make a big difference. $10 million/year for higher education is a small figure compared to the possible economic benefit of increased STEAM engagement in the area. Even a large grant or series of grants could be huge for area students.

And with a requirement that student return to Spokane, there’s a good chance that we’d hook them in for good.

What do you think? Could college scholarships/grants for STEAM students help improve Spokane’s local economy and increase the number of young, urban professionals? Would you be willing to pay $20 more per year in property taxes to fund scholarships for high school seniors? Disregarding a funding mechanism, what do you think about requiring that students move back to Spokane? Share your thoughts below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. We love to hear from you.

Good News: Egnyte opens Spokane-area office

Egnyte is a cloud data services firm offering their product primarily to business customers, including such conglomerates as Home Depot and Ikea.

A Silicon Valley cloud computing and data services firm with $30 million in VC funding has opened a Spokane-area office. In a significant expansion, one of only two United States locations outside of Mountain View where Egnyte has chosen to locate an office (they have offices in the U.K. and Poland). And while the location unfortunately is not in the central business district (it’s at the Pring Center at 15404 E. Springfield in Spokane Valley), it still represents a move in the right direction in terms of attracting technology firms and engineers in order to solve our current deficit of young urban professionals. Hopefully this expansion starts a trend of tech companies forgoing growth in expensive areas like Seattle and Denver in favor of smaller cities like Spokane that offer arguably more value.

If you happen to be seeking a job and are involved in sales, Egnyte is currently hiring for this new Spokane Valley office. Two positions, a Salesforce.com Developer/Admin and an Account Manager, are open, and you can apply online.

Which other technology firms would you like to see open offices in the Spokane area?

Idea #5: Municipal Gigabit Fiber

More than anything else, it’s been said that in order to build a greater sense of vitality in the city, Spokane needs to attract young, urban professionals. But how do we attract the jobs in technology, high-tech manufacturing, and  biomedical development which they require? Perhaps with something like gigabit Internet. You know, that startlingly fast network that Google is building out in Kansas City (and now Austin, TX and Provo, UT)? Spokane should attempt to build something similar for consumers and businesses alike.

Spokane certainly has the technological know-how. It developed the first major municipal WiFi network, the HotZone, spanning 100 blocks of downtown. Together with nonprofit and private partners, it built out the Terabyte Triangle, an innovative technology cluster once called “forward-looking” and “cutting-edge.”

If Spokane wants to move forward, it should look at building out or contracting with a partner to build out a gigabit internet network. I mean, just look at Seattle’s Gigabit Squared project. (Although that project has apparently since died, it represented a forward-looking vision for the city.) It’s time we developed something similar.