In the early 1970s, in the lead-up to Expo 74, civic leaders in Spokane decided to make a major change to downtown. In addition to relocating the railyards off of what became Riverfront Park, business groups and planners demolished broad swaths of heritage buildings on West Trent, then Spokane’s “skid row.” To distance the area from its seedy past, the street running through it was renamed “Spokane Falls Boulevard.” The short-term vision was to provide an ample amount of parking for the swarms of regional and international visitors who would soon descend on downtown, with future opportunities on the sites to be determined. Naturally, these plans never materialized.
It’s hard to believe that the Otis Hotel has already been vacant for more than ten years. But indeed, the former SRO hotel (which also went variously by names like Willard, Atlantic, Milner, and Earle) closed its doors to more than 200 low-income residents on September 1, 2007. In the time since, the Great Recession scuttled condominium plans and a tangled ownership structure complicated multiple bids at renovation.
The Fast Forward Spokane plan was released at possibly the worst possible time. In November 2008, the housing market had already burst. Big banks were already well on their way to a major bailout. People were losing their jobs in record numbers. But even at the height of the Great Recession, Spokane was finalizing a significant and visionary update to its Downtown Plan.
That plan turns 10 years old next year.
To mark the occasion, city officials will be working with residents, businesses, community groups, and other stakeholders to revise the document with an eye toward the next 10 years of development. Naturally, there will be many opportunities for community and stakeholder engagement. To that end, until early January, we intend to take a deep dive each week into our hopes and policy desires for the 2018 update. And we want your feedback! Continue reading “After 10 years, Spokane looks toward major downtown plan update in 2018”
In terms of number of units, it’s not a very large addition, but four luxury, high-design new housing units have been added above Nudo and Fire at 820 W Sprague in downtown Spokane.
On paper, this development might not seem notable, especially due to its small size and luxury price tag. But it seemed worthy of sharing, mainly due to its beautiful design. Architects and interior designers at HDG Architecture have crafted a luxurious set of modern, airy spaces which exude all of the sophistication you would expect of a big city, without losing the authenticity, character, and charm of Spokane. And of course, this being HDG, there are some special flourishes which befit their status as one of our region’s most recognizable design firms.
Jump after the break for more photos and details.
Yesterday morning, Amazon announced that it would seek proposals from communities for a second headquarters, roughly equal in size to its South Lake Union campus, to be developed somewhere in North America. The e-commerce giant, which recently completed its purchase of natural grocer Whole Foods Market, intends to spend as much as $5 billion to develop a 50,000-employee campus outside of its Seattle base. In an unusual move, instead of searching privately for a suitable location, the company has opened a formal Request for Proposals from interested communities.
Naturally, communities from Los Angeles to Baltimore have already started throwing their hats into the ring for the massive investment. As is typical, this got us thinking. Could Spokane launch a credible bid?
First, let’s look at Amazon’s high-level requirements.
The firm is looking for collaborative bids from metro areas, and has a preference for areas with more than one million people, a stable business environment, strong talent attraction, and big thinking. While Spokane does not meet the first criteria (the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Combined Statistical Area has a population of about 700,000, and that stretches “metro area” to breaking point), arguments can be made that the other requirements can be met. The Spokane area certainly has a history of big thinking, having boldly pushed for and hosted a World’s Fair in 1974, against all odds. Its beautiful natural environment, strong quality of life and recreational opportunities, and low cost of living are certainly attractive assets. And observers say Spokane’s economy stays relatively stable even during recessions. Area leaders from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane cite business satisfaction as a major priority.
Next, let’s dig deeper. Amazon cites a number of priorities and key decision drivers in selecting a site location.
- Site and Building Location. Amazon keeps it relatively vague, looking only for “the best buildings available”––whether redevelopment site, public-private partnership, or a greenfield area. In Spokane, while a decade ago Kendall Yards would have been a stellar choice, today we could focus on the South University District. With a new pedestrian bridge under construction, abundant vacant and redevelopable property, and a new Avista project in development, this area has the makings of a great urban neighborhood. If the property acquisition and consolidation can be properly managed, it has the potential and space––Amazon or not––to become our South Lake Union.
- Capital and Operating Costs. Spokane has a leg up on the larger communities: comparatively, it’s quite cheap. Our energy costs are below the national average, and building costs are low compared to coastal cities. Washington State is generally more expensive than other states, so any bid would require a state-level partnership.
- Incentives. Spokane has a basket of limited incentives it can offer, but localities are generally constrained in Washington State, and without a port district we have very few powerful options. Meanwhile, any successful bid would have to win out over incentive-rich states like Texas and Georgia. So for Spokane to have a competitive application, it would have to leverage state-level partnerships and potentially even legislative action.
- Labor Force. 50,000 employees is a lot––especially somewhere like Spokane. Is our labor force workable for a high-tech firm like Amazon? At present, probably not, although our education system has strong points between WSU, EWU, Whitworth, Gonzaga, and UI. To balance out this broadly negative point, combined with Spokane’s relatively small size, Spokane could latch onto a statewide proposal in cooperation with cities like Seattle, Bellevue, and Tacoma and instantly gain access to a wider talent pool which craves Spokane’s lower cost of living and strong quality of life.
- Logistics. Spokane has all the basics––easy access via I-90, a major rail hub, and abundant direct flights across the West Coast to Seattle, the Bay Area, and other locales. We’d lose points on lacking nonstop flights to the East Coast, including New York and Washington, D.C.
- Time to Operations. Revamping the Avista Development proposal for the South Landing of the pedestrian bridge could be a way to expedite construction. Given that Amazon wants at least 500,000 square feet for Phase I, additional property would need to be assembled and entitled, which would take additional time.
- Community Cultural Fit. We’d gain points on our universities and commitment to education, as well as our history of big thinking. We’d lose points on workforce and cultural diversity, and we’d probably lose a few points on business climate among elected officials. While most would be nominally on-board, some fringe elements (see: Matt Shea, Spokane Valley City Council) could raise questions.
- Quality of Life. We’ve touched this already. It’s great!
So would Spokane be able to put together a competitive proposal on its own, with cities like San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Baltimore in the running? Probably not.
But a statewide proposal focused on expanding and retaining Amazon, potentially leveraging sites in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Vancouver (WA), and Spokane, could be difficult to beat. This would allow the Washington State government to assist in incentives and by utilizing tools not available to localities. It would also distribute the benefits of any such development across the state rather than concentrating them in already-prosperous areas, like Seattle. Anchored by strong transportation infrastructure, such as the expanded Seattle transit system, an expanded I-90, and potentially even statewide high speed rail, even residents outside of Amazon employees or Amazon-adjacent employees could see considerable benefits.
In Spokane, this could mean a smaller campus of 10,000 – 25,000 people in the South University District, with the remaining employees split among localities across the state. Bellevue (which recently received a major Amazon expansion), Everett, Tacoma, Vancouver (WA), and Seattle are all credible choices.
Is it bold? No doubt. It throws out the rules of the Amazon RFP process, creating a campus structure for Amazon more like a state university system (for example, WSU has locations in Pullman, Spokane, Everett, the Tri-Cities, and Vancouver) than a tech company. But it’s sufficiently creative and interesting that it wouldn’t be tossed out of hand.
Is it unthinkable? No, it isn’t.
If our area economic development officials are watching the hoopla over Amazon HQ #2 with envy, looking on as communities with more than a million people excitedly launch bids, they should hop on the phone with communities like Seattle, Bellevue, and Tacoma. They should call up the Washington Department of Commerce and our state legislators. Amazon is an important firm to our state, no matter how you feel about it, and the HQ #2 process puts all of that at risk. What better way to double down than to collaborate with communities across the state?
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Should Spokane launch a bid for the new Amazon headquarters, either on its own or with partners from across the state? How important is Amazon to the statewide economy? Do you see it on the level of Boeing or Microsoft? In Spokane, where would you put a new Amazon campus? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments below, or in person. We love to hear from you!
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.
The former Otis Hotel, located at 110 S Madison in Spokane’s West End, has been vacant since 2007, when the low-income residents who then called the building home were evicted (often in not-so-great circumstances) to make way for a new condo development. Ultimately, that condo development failed in the recession, and ownership passed from investors to banks and back again.
Now, it again looks like a developer is exploring redeveloping the property. While at this point the developer is unknown, ZBA Architecture, which perhaps most famously served as the architect for the Community Building/Saranac remodel, has attended a Pre-Development Conference with City staff. The Otis Hotel project would remodel and modernize the former SRO units on the second through fifth floors into studio and one-bedroom apartments at a total construction cost estimated at $4.5 million. With floor plans ranging from 250 to 510 square feet, and ultimately as many as 100 apartments occupying the building, it’s safe to classify the project as a “micro-apartment” project. The first floor would likely see remodeled retail space.
Indeed, while the pre-development conference includes no construction timeline, and a Pre-Development Conference is not a building permit application, we should take this news as confirmation that there is significant interest in redeveloping the former Otis building.
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.
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.
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!
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!