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.

Crossroads

Downtown Spokane and the Spokane River is indisputably an incredible sight to behold, especially for first-time visitors. So why have we started accepting mediocrity? What’s with our inferiority complex? (PHOTO: Mike Gass on Flickr)

Since the earliest days of human settlement in the inland Northwest, the region has marked a critical juncture between conflicting forces. In a dramatic fashion, it is here that the dry, barren desert of the Great Basin comes together with the ponderosa pines and snowcapped peaks of the Selkirks. It was here that some of the earliest settlers of the Oregon Territory clashed with the Native peoples who had called this region home for hundreds and hundreds of years. It was here that David Thompson established the first long-term European settlement in what would become Washington state, noting the critical crossroads at which the area lies. It was here that one of the most important railroad centers in the entire western United States decided with Expo ’74 that it wanted something new, something fresh, something better. Indeed, the history of the inland Northwest is positively littered with critical transitions, crossroads, changes, conflicts. They’ve challenged us, renewed us, torn us down, and built us up. They’ve made us what we are.

Well, today, Spokane lies at one such critical crossroads in its history. 

Continue reading “Crossroads”

KXLY land grab at South Complex?

This conceptual site plan for the KXLY site at Regal and Palouse Highway on Spokane's South Hill was presented by KXLY representatives at a Land Committee meeting of the Parks Board.
This draft/conceptual site plan for the KXLY site at Regal and Palouse Highway on Spokane’s South Hill was presented by KXLY representatives at a Land Committee meeting of the Parks Board. Note the plan to build a large mixed-use facility on land currently owned by the Parks Department and relocate the soccer fields to the rear of a new big-box store. Please note that this document is in the public record.

Following up on a tweet from last week, The #spokanerising Project can now report that KXLY representatives are in discussions with the Parks Board for a land swap that could result in a significant change in the recreation and parks facilities offered in the Southgate District, as well as the second of three major big-box developments that have been planned for the area. Please note: these plans have not been submitted to the Planning and Development Office. They represent conceptual drawings for the site that were presented by KXLY at a Land Committee meeting of the Spokane Parks Board in December of 2013.

That meeting resulted in a Letter of Intent, specifying broadly that the Parks Department would enter into an agreement with KXLY to swap land in order to ensure shared access and potentially shared parking. Essentially, the City would agree to swap a piece of land in order to create a shared driveway where the current South Complex parking lot is located, and potentially including the entire east end of the complex, if KXLY chooses to build a mixed-use building. In exchange, KXLY would grant to the Parks Department replacement soccer fields on the west side of their proposed big-box development, near and underneath their AM radio transmitter tower on the site.

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Kendall Yards #Progress: March 23, 2014

This mixed-use building at Kendall Yards will feature retail and restaurant space on the bottom floor and two stories of residential lofts on the upper floors.
This mixed-use building at Kendall Yards will feature retail and restaurant space on the bottom floor and two stories of residential lofts on the upper floors. Photo taken March 23, 2014.

Spring has sprung at Kendall Yards. The new urbanist/mixed use development near downtown has taken on a decidedly more urban (and local) feel of late, as Greenstone focuses on three new buildings in the neighborhood’s commercial district. With Yards Bruncheon now complete, construction is focused on Wandering Table next door, a building that will be the new permanent home for Veraci Pizza, and a new three-story mixed use building with streetfront retail and residential units above called the Highline Lofts. While some leases for the building are presumed to be signed, we only have confirmation that Brain Freeze Creamery will occupy the suite closest to Wandering Table on the western-most side of the building.

With all of these local restaurants joining Central Food, it’s pretty clear that the neighborhood has become a venue of choice for homegrown local businesses much more in line with reality than the Marshall Chesrown/Black Rock designs we saw (and salivated over) in 2006. We’re excited to see which tenants are lined up for the almost-complete Highline Lofts building, when a proposed four-story mixed-use building between Veraci Pizza and Spa Paradiso will break ground, and what will become of the rest of the neighborhood, especially with plans for additional surface parking in lieu of underground garages in the commercial district. Just try to keep that aspect to a minimum, okay, Greenstone?

For more construction and progress photos, hop along after the break.

Continue reading “Kendall Yards #Progress: March 23, 2014”

Idea #12: Build high-quality graduate programs (in diverse fields) at local universities

Gonzaga University offers a top-notch undergraduate experience, but their graduate programs lag painfully behind. Spokane’s long-term success in becoming a destination for young people hinges partially on high-quality graduate programs. (PHOTO: Dwayne Wright)

Myth: Spokane will never have young, urban professionals because young people tend to move away to go to school. Moreover, it does not have the jobs or the lifestyle opportunities to support them.

That myth has been told more than perhaps any other to describe the demise of culture in Spokane. But here’s the thing: it’s completely and utterly false. In terms of potential to attract the type of young, urban professionals that Spokane needs to thrive, we have as much or more than any other comparable city. We have four universities located within city limits, with Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University, and Washington State University located in the University District downtown and Whitworth University holding up the fort in north Spokane. We have a low cost of living, an abundance of affordable housing, and  We great food, excellent shopping, and outstanding cultural opportunities right downtown and four seasons of recreation within as little as a five-minute drive (or less!) Everything seems to be right for Spokane to become an “it” place.

So why hasn’t it?

The answer is probably more complicated than just the issue of education, but education plays a big role. WSU Spokane focuses almost entirely on medicine and nursing, which are great, but hardly harness the innovation and creativity of students. (And, it should be noted, that’s probably for the best. The thought of a doctor innovating a new treatment off-the-cuff and without guidance conjures up frightening possibilities.) When they aren’t educating students for the healthcare profession, they’re providing MBAs and HPAs to professionals already in stable careers. Gonzaga University, meanwhile, has gutted its graduate engineering program, choosing instead to focus almost entirely on undergraduates. It’s the same story at EWU Spokane.

In order to grow our young, urban professional population and increase the availability of high-paying, high-quality jobs, our universities must broaden their scope and offer more, better graduate programs to more people.

I’m thinking of graduate engineering. I’m thinking of entrepreneurship. I’m thinking of computer science and engineering. I’m thinking of information systems. I’m thinking of economics. (There’s an innovation and high-tech economy in Spokane that sits just bubbling under the surface, waiting to be explored!)

The sooner Spokane, or better, the State of Washington, realizes this and provides benefits to universities for adding new programs, the better. We need graduate education in order to thrive, and the status quo will not cut it. It’s time to build graduate education in Spokane.

What are your thoughts? Share your comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, on other social media, or even amongst your friends in person. We want to hear from you!

Editorial Comment: Spokane should oppose coal trains

Coal trains would bring pollution and congestion through the inland Northwest en route to ports on the coast of the Pacific Ocean with no direct benefit to us. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

The #spokanerising Project opposes plans to increase coal shipments through the inland Northwest. Such shipments, estimated at 18 additional trains daily to supply the Gateway Pacific Terminal alone, would harm our neighborhoods and threaten our neighborhood vitality. Collectively, the coal conglomerates want to ship an additional 150 million tons of coal every year to China and other developing Asian nations. That’s enough to fill 10,000 more trains every year, and most of them would roll through Spokane’s neighborhoods and its downtown.

Spokane should be the epicenter of this debate. As the largest inland city on the route from the Powder River Basin to the coast, we stand to lose the most from the export proposals. Think about the impact of 18+ additional trains at Witter Aquatics Center, located across the street from Avista Utilities at Perry and Mission. Think about the impact of 18+ additional trains on the burgeoning University District, set to be a full-scale medical and graduate school. Think about the impact of 18+ additional trains downtown, where Expo 74 promised to clean up a dirty, seedy central business district–and then delivered. Who’s going to want to develop in neighborhoods like that? Who’s going to want to increase neighborhood vitality in a neighborhood where trains diminish property values and destroy quality of life? Coal trains are antithetical to increased positive development.

We learned a lot from Expo, but if these coal export proposals are developed, then we risk going back on the commitments and the changes that we made. We risk going back to before 1974. And that’s not a risk that we should be taking.

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Spokane Public Market abruptly announces imminent closure

Spokane Public Market announced on Friday that it would close by this Friday, March 7
Spokane Public Market announced on Friday that it would close by this Friday, March 7. (PHOTO: Spokane Public Market)

Last Friday, Spokane Public Market announced that it would close its doors by this coming Friday, March 7. The Market opened at 2nd and Browne in 2011 to great expectations, but tepid customer support. The year-round food and artisanal-item market was designed as a centrally-locating gathering place that would be quickly expanded and remodeled into a more attractive space. These plans didn’t pan out, and within a year, it was controversially begging for support on its Facebook account, on posts that have since been deleted.

We can’t help but lament the loss of the Spokane Public Market as a civic resource, but we also question the back story behind the move toward its closure. The market has been languishing for years, with no major changes in order to attract more customers and vendors. With nearly 5,000 Facebook likes and a strong base of vocal support, we question whether everything that could have been done to save the market was done.

Regardless, Spokane Public Market will close March 7. Perhaps the space should be reopened as a combination public market-events center-fast casual food court a la San Jose’s San Pedro Square Market?

What are your thoughts on the Spokane Public Market closure? Share your comments below, engage with us on social media, and contribute a post in response. We want to hear from you.

What the Google Fiber expansion means for Spokane

Google is expanding its fiber-optic business to as many as thirty new cities in nine metropolitan areas as it readies a nationwide push for faster data speeds. (PHOTO: Google)

We wrote a couple weeks ago that building an expansive fiber-optic network should be one of City Hall’s top priorities. With the recent announcement that Google Fiber is expanding to new cities, we have a clearer picture of how Spokane might be able to get in on the action. Most importantly, Google describes its planning process for Fiber as one with two parts. First, cities complete what the company calls a “fiber-ready” checklist. Then a detailed city study begins. Spokane can get a head start on other cities that will inevitably be competing for fiber in the future by completing a checklist now.

 

Spokane can procure the necessary maps of existing utility poles, gas, power, and water lines. It can provide a clearer picture of the existing fiber services and dark fiber that are lying dormant underneath the city. It can streamline the permitting and approvals process for fiber-optic lines regardless of whether or not Google comes knocking sometime down the road. These moves would be beneficial for any potential actor to get in on the fiber action. It doesn’t have to be Google. In fact, numerous companies operate fiber optic networks within the city already, albeit on a primarily commercial customer basis. By making this information more readily available and making it easier to get a permit for work on internet infrastructure, Spokane could jumpstart a potential fiber expansion.

What are your thoughts? Can the dark fiber be lit? Would Spokane be better served by a municipal internet utility that works like its existing water and garbage services? What’s next for Spokane? Share your comments below, on Twitter, on Facebook, and around the web. We love to hear from you.

Latest rendering of Worthy’s Convention Center Hotel eschews brick entirely, looks somewhat more modern

White and Black will be clothing the downtown Spokane skyline in the near future. (PHOTO: Visit Spokane)
White and Black will be clothing the downtown Spokane skyline in the near future. (PHOTO: Visit Spokane)

Here’s the latest rendering of the Convention Center Hotel currently under construction in downtown Spokane. While the basic structure of the building has not changed much since its introduction, the materials to be used certainly have. When the project was announced, it was to be built of brick with hardly a street-level enhancement. Now, the hotel will feature white and black paneling not unlike that currently covering the Spokane Convention Center/INB Performing Arts Center itself, and the street level will feature a more lively lobby and retail/restaurant spaces.

Also of note is the parking garage on the side of the block facing Main. Note the clean, bold lines of the black and white paneling and the addition of street-level enhancements. One of the fears that came with this project was that that side of the block would become dead space due to the parking garage. Now it appears that the ground level will be used for meeting or small convention space.

What do you think? Has Walt Worthy and the Davenport Hotel Collection done enough to ensure that this latest entry into Spokane’s skyline aesthetically and actively fits with the rest of downtown? Are the paneling changes enough to ensure that the building doesn’t look like the Davenport Tower? And what about those Soviet-esque windows? Share your thoughts in the comments.

General Growth Properties reveals plans to remodel NorthTown Mall

NorthTown Mall will be extensively remodeled in 2014 featuring a more modern and stylish exterior. (PHOTO: Spokane Journal of Business)

General Growth Properties, the owner of NorthTown Mall at Wellesley and Division in north Spokane (and Spokane Valley Mall on Indiana), is planning a massive remodel of their largest inland Northwest property. The changes should get underway in the next few weeks as crews demolish much of the north side of the building to build a new, more central and clearly defined entrance.

Significant modern and timeless architectural embellishments will be used to temper the current bare concrete facade of the building. The plan is to first demolish about 120,000 square feet of space between Macy’s and Kohl’s. Then 63,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space will be added in its place. The parking lot will be reconfigured and the interior of the building will be repainted and generally improved. Notably, GGP plans to sign tenants new to the Spokane area, but no announcements have yet been made. With construction getting underway shortly, all indications are that the renovations will be complete by early 2015.

We’re pleased to see redevelopment at Spokane’s primary suburban-style mall, but we do wish that investment would be more concentrated downtown. The Downtown Spokane Partnership has already indicated that additional retail space, especially for large-format retailers similar to Nordstrom, is incredibly necessary downtown. With General Growth Properties making a major investment at NorthTown, downtown will have a hard time keeping up unless significant investment is made. And soon.

Thoughts?

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