Mobile Murals site at 3rd and Division apparently set for pseudo-strip mall

The proposed development at 3rd and Division eschews any attempt at an "urban form," instead falling back on more suburban-style amenities and features, such as 46 parking spaces. (PHOTO: Spokane Planning's Citizen Access System)
The Santillanes’ proposed development at 3rd and Division eschews any attempt at an “urban form,” instead falling back on more suburban-style amenities and features, such as 46 parking spaces. (PHOTO: Spokane Planning’s Citizen Access System)

First, the good news: it appears that the Mobile Murals won’t need to be around 3rd and Division for much longer, as a local developer plans to break ground on a new project there. Now, the bad news: said project will eschew any semblance of urban form in favor of a more suburban, strip mall-esque design.

Recall that local hoteliers Rita and John Santillanes, planning to build a Best Western Peppertree, purchased the lot in 2008 and moved quickly to demolish the existing Lutheran church that was on the premises. Funding fell through late in the year when Bank of Whitman collapsed. It never returned. Last year, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, City of Spokane, and Spokane Arts partnered, and along with other community groups like Spokane Rising, built temporary murals to create a more vibrant and exciting gateway to downtown than the rebar and concrete that had plagued the site for the preceding six years.

Now, Santillanes says she’s ready to restart development at the site. It won’t be a hotel; the nearly-complete Davenport Grand scuttled those plans. Instead, the two have planned a $2 million two-story mixed office/retail building, which will become the home of operations for their four Best Western Peppertree Inns. Office space will occupy the second floor, while Brooke Baker, of the presumed contractor, Baker Construction, hopes to find a fast casual restaurant (a la Chipotle) to occupy one of the several ground-floor retail slots. Great news, right? After all, now the lot won’t be filled with ugly urban decay and the Mobile Murals can move on to another unsightly empty lot.

Wrong. See the above tentative site plan from the Pre-Development Conference hosted with the City of Spokane’s Planning & Development Services Department. Note that the building is set back from the corner at 3rd and Division, features an obscene 46 parking stalls, includes a drive-through window, and includes few if any urban design elements. Now, we have not yet seen renderings, but as it stands, the design is “standard” in every sense of the term. Moreover, it conflicts with the principles set forth in the Division Street Gateway project, which seeks to improve pedestrian access/safety and beautify Spokane’s most important intersection. We can’t help but feel that this project flies in the face of those goals.

Luckily, there’s a simple fix. All Santillanes must do to improve the building, create a better pedestrian experience, and ensure that downtown Spokane does not become an extension of East Sprague or North Division, is construct this building to the corner, with parking in the rear. It’s a simple fix, but it’s one that would work, and it’s one that would make a difference for times to come in visitors’ first impressions of Spokane. Construction is anticipated to begin in May. Can we make a difference? Shout loud and clear to your nearest City Councilperson (click on the name of yours for contact information) that you think downtown Spokane deserves better. Contact the Planning Department directly. Or, better yet, the developers, Rita and John Santillanes. We can build a better downtown. The first step? Refusal to accept continued mediocrity.

Idea #24: Convert Main Avenue to a Pedestrian Mall

The Church Street Marketplace in downtown Burlington, Vermont was originally conceived in 1958 and constructed in 1980. In the time since, it has been recognized time and again as a prime example of good urban design for public space. It’s managed by a public commission. (PHOTO: vermont.org)

I must admit that this is an idea that’s been gnawing at me for some time. It struck me last June during Terrain’s Bazaar, which was taking place on Wall Street between Main Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard, then grew on me during my time in Germany this past fall. In many of Europe’s cities, the central avenue in the city center is closed to vehicles. The result is a much more pedestrian-centered experience with a vibrant, exciting city life. What if we took this same logic and applied it to downtown Spokane?

Let’s convert Main Avenue between Lincoln Street and Bernard Street into a pedestrian mall.

At first glance, this may seem like a radical idea. Why would we want to convert six city blocks into a limited access, pedestrian-only experience? Why would we want to restrict vehicular access? The answer, of course, is vibrancy. The on-street experience would be greatly enhanced by the addition of new street trees, new public gathering places and amenities, and pedestrian-specific features. Imagine farmers’ markets, food trucks, flash mobs, and handicraft vendors all gathering in one place downtown. Imagine winter carolers and summer gallery openings. And imagine it all being outside of the control of the Cowles family, which recently proposed to take 17 feet of public right of way at the Wall Street pseudo-“pedestrian mall” for a “mystery national retailer.”

The prospect is tantalizing. But it would require a concerted effort at programming. A public commission or non-profit board a la the Seattle Center’s management structure or that of Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square would work well. And we’ll have to work on finding solutions to the traffic problem (especially cross-traffic on Stevens and Washington) as well. But we can do it. We can replace lost parking, improve traffic flow downtown, and build a vibrant community all at the same time. So let’s get behind a pedestrian on Main Avenue. Let’s make it happen.

What do you think? Do you support the idea for a pedestrian mall on Main Avenue? Do you think it could spur investment along that street, where parking lots have languished undeveloped for years and years? What would you like to see programmed at a pedestrian mall downtown? Share your thoughts below in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

What’s the deal with downtown and parking?

Before Walt Worthy’s “Grand Hotel Spokane” broke ground, the Convention Center/INB Performing Arts Center complex had a huge parking crater just across the street. And yet, people still complain that parking is too difficult downtown. Why? (PHOTO: Streetsblog)

If you listen to some people, then downtown Spokane’s mostly paid parking causes all sorts of problems for downtown. The theory goes that a large number of people simply refuse to shop or work or locate businesses downtown because they don’t want to worry about finding a space and paying for parking. While we’ve already shown that downtown already has too much parking, the cost issue may or may not be a fair concern. Most other downtown areas nearby (i.e. Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Missoula, etc.) don’t charge for on-street parking, and often even off-street parking is free (i.e. Coeur d’Alene’s McEuen Park, which offers two hours of free parking). But is it a fair criticism? You’re never too far from a metered space in downtown Spokane, and if you park near Kendall Yards, you can get free parking and a beautiful five-minute walk. If you’re looking at off-street parking, our rates are comparatively a steal.

In Seattle, or Portland, or San Francisco, or San Jose, or Los Angeles, you’d be paying at least $15 for a two- or three-hour shopping trip. Here, $5-8 probably is the most you would pay. So why do people here freak out over the very thought of paying a small amount of money to park? Or at the thought of finding a place to park, when we have a great overabundance of parking as it is?

We think that three potential solutions could get more and more people downtown. Any of these three, or a combination, could make a big difference in combatting the negative perception that many Spokanites hold about shopping or working downtown.

1. Create a downtown “parking authority.” Under this scenario, all surface parking and street parking in downtown Spokane would fall under one management structure. The parking authority would be responsible for price setting, enforcement, and the creation of a common marketing scheme. No longer would you worry about whether you are in a City of Spokane, River Park Square, Diamond Parking, Convention Center, or Davenport spot. You’re just in a Spokane spot. Less worries. More convenience.

2. Through strong planning and capital investment, encourage more people to use transit to come downtown. This is a touchy subject as it is, but the fact remains that if you don’t use a car, you don’t even have to worry about parking. Let’s make transit even more convenient than driving. Let’s build out a streetcar, a trolleybus, a light rail. Let’s make bus service more efficient, more predictable, more frequent. Let’s build “stations,” with bulb-outs, highly-designed shelters, and ticket vending machines for off-vehicle ticketing. Currently, “choice” riders avoid STA because it lacks a critical experiential element. Make it more of an “experience,” and perhaps more users will ride downtown.

3. Make it free. Yup. I went there. If both other options were employed to reduce the number of parking spaces demanded, perhaps we could get rid of the meters entirely. It’s not like they provide a massive revenue stream for the City. Those funds could easily be replaced with small adjustments in other areas of the budget. And the vitality effect could be huge as individuals make more excuses to shop downtown. Besides, the positive publicity associated with free parking could be reason alone. Let’s go for it.

What do you think? With a historic parking surplus and significantly lower parking costs than other areas of the country, why are people so paranoid about what seems to amount to a relatively minor issue? Does parking stop you from shopping or working downtown? Do you think free parking or an investment in transit could make a difference? What of the parking authority idea? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments below, or in person. We love to hear from you.

City Council working on changes to Centers and Corridors guidelines

In the South Perry District, Wollnick’s and Perry Street Brewing offer an upscale, but properly-scaled experience for the neighborhood. South Perry is zoned CC1 under Spokane’s innovative “Centers and Corridors” guidelines. (PHOTO: Amy Graff)

Introduction

There’s a great book written by Jeffrey L. Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky called Implementation. It’s a dense read, used mostly by upper-division undergraduate and graduate students in political science and public policy, but more than any other text, it does an excellent job of explaining how policy so often becomes divorced from its implementation. In it, Pressman and Wildavsky argue that such a separation can cause policy failure.

Spokane’s dealing with such a problem right now. Enter the official City of Spokane document entitled Initial Design Standards and Guidelines for Centers and Corridors.

Continue reading “City Council working on changes to Centers and Corridors guidelines”

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.

GSI, DSP push STA to postpone Plaza renovation

The renovation of downtown’s STA Plaza suffered a major setback Thursday that could spell danger for the transit provider’s entire operation. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Greater Spokane, Incorporated and the Downtown Spokane Partnership on Thursday pushed the Spokane Transit Authority to postpone its planned renovation of the Plaza downtown. The two groups were concerned that the planned revamp, which would relocate passenger services to the first floor, add more retail spaces, create a larger indoor waiting area, and develop real-time bus arrival information, didn’t do enough to address the issue of loitering (read: waiting for buses).

Unfortunately, with the STA Plaza as vital as it is to the authority’s operation, this three-month postponement could spell doom for projects like the Central City Line and plans for a high-performance transit network in the Spokane region. Especially if a solution to the impasse isn’t found quickly. DSP and GSI oppose the planned reboot despite the relatively low cost of such a measure, as compared to realigning STA’s operations at an alternative facility. Moreover, the two groups have yet to present a compelling case that loitering (read: waiting for buses) has harmed downtown’s economic vitality, or that such a problem is unique to Spokane (have you ever seen the Transbay Transit Terminal in San Francisco? San Jose’s Diridon Station?). They have also failed to pony up the necessary dollars to move the facility, as they propose. Until such a case can be presented or such funding can be found, this can be chalked up to just another short-sighted attempt to hold Spokane back from making progress on improving vital services and infrastructure like transit. 

Urban cities have loiterers. They have panhandlers. They have homeless people. Spokane doesn’t have a “street kid” problem or a “loiterer” problem or a “homeless” problem. It has a “well-connected cynic” problem.

What do you think? Do you use the STA Plaza? How does it compare in your experience to transit terminals in other cities? Do you support the plaza renovation, which would create indoor waiting spaces and retail in attempt to further decrease loitering on the street? Should the Plaza cease to exist, perhaps in favor of a Portland-style transit mall? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Facebook, and on Twitter. We love to hear from you.

Urban village to rise on Spokane’s South Hill?

Will the next Kendall Yards be located near Southeast Boulevard and 29th on Spokane's South Hill? The developers of Quail Run seem to hope so. Honestly, doesn't this look like Central Food at the Nest in Kendall Yards? (PHOTO: Quail Run Spokane)
Will the next Kendall Yards be located near Southeast Boulevard and 29th on Spokane’s South Hill? The developers of Quail Run seem to hope so. Honestly, doesn’t this restaurant look like a new Flying Goat or Central Food? (PHOTO: Quail Run Spokane)

Matthew Byrd of Cornerstone Property Advisors is marketing an urban village at Quail Run on Spokane’s South Hill. Early site clearing has gotten underway on the property, located near the intersection of 29th Avenue and Southeast Boulevard, and vertical construction could be in progress within a few weeks.

But as with all Spokane projects, it seems, this one has positive and negative aspects. Luckily, under all three scenarios, the majority of the new construction would be fronting a new “main street.” A water feature is envisioned in two of the three ideas. But one proposal in particular features a large anchor store and more extensive parking. And no specifics are given on whether any of the projects would be mixed-use, with residential features. For full project proposals, see the Quail Run website here.

Hopefully the developers will construct a mixed-use urban village fitting of the next great American city. A project that will enhance quality of life and reap positive benefits not just for buyers of the development, but for neighbors as well. Residential in particular should be a critical component of any successful project. Time will tell, as construction is set to get underway soon.

#insteadofsprawl

Sprawl leads to lower property values, higher taxes, increased obesity rates, shorter lives, and increased carbon pollution. So why are the Spokane County Commissioners trying to jam another Urban Growth Area expansion down our throats? (PHOTO: Indie Music Filter)

Sprawl sucks. It lowers our property values, increases our taxes, increases our obesity rates, shortens our lives, and increases greenhouse gas emissions. It also sucks the life out of our city centers, hollows out the arts and culture community, and drains top talent from sprawling regions. In short, sprawl has no place in Spokane’s urban planning agenda.

But the Board of County Commissioners (Al French, Todd Mielke, and Shelly O’Quinn) seem to think otherwise. They’ve moved forward with another costly Urban Growth Area expansion package backed by little quantitative research whatsoever, which could mean that Spokane will suffer through more sprawl on the Moran Prairie, Glenrose, Five Mile, Indian Trail, and in other areas across the county. This expansion would cost taxpayers millions in new service-extension fees, and it would lower quality of life across the county. We need to make sure that it doesn’t happen.

Here’s where you come in. In order to show the importance of infill to creating vibrant urban neighborhoods where people want to live, here’s what you can do.

1. Take a picture of your favorite vacant lot or building. It could be anywhere. For example, this weekend I noticed that the former Heroes & Legends space downtown is now vacant. There’s also this pretty ugly empty lot at 3rd and Division that we’ve written about before that needs revitalization and development. Take a picture.

2. Envision what the site could become. What would you like to see on the lot or in the space? Be imaginative! For example, at 3rd & Division, I’d love to see a five-story live-work building with apartments over retail. In the Heroes & Legends space, I think it would be cool to see a new tap house. Get creative with this one.

3. Tweet your photos and ideas with the hashtag #insteadofsprawl. This is the best part. Share with us and with the world what you’d like the site to become. We want to get #insteadofsprawl trending in the Spokane area, so send in your photos and share with your friends. As many vacant lots and ideas as you can. You should also email kitty@futurewise.org so that Kitty Klitzke, of Futurewise Spokane, can compile posts into a new blog, Spokane Instead of Sprawl.

We can do this. We can show the County Commissioners and the rest of Spokane that there is a future in infill. #insteadofsprawl, we could be building vibrant urban centers like South Perry, Garland, and Kendall Yards. We could be enhancing quality life instead of tearing it down. There are hundreds of vacant lots in Spokane that could be infilled. We urge readers of the #spokanerising Project to find them, tweet them, and share them. The best vacant lots and ideas will be featured on the blog and potentially elsewhere. This is about the future of Spokane as a livable, exciting city. Will you help us?

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.

Spokane-area light rail lives?

From 2000-2006, the Spokane area was deep in a planning process for future light rail transit (LRT) in the South Valley corridor from downtown to Liberty Lake along Riverside and Sprague, with future extensions possible to Spokane International Airport and Coeur d’Alene. STA commissioned study after independent study, all indicating that at $17 million per mile–the projected cost of the developed project–light rail would more than pay for itself, generating billions in economic development. And significantly, because the cost of such a proposal is likely to skyrocket in coming years as the region grows, it was discovered that the annual operating cost of the light rail system would be less than the annual growth in construction costs, were the project to be built at some point in the future, instead of now.

But then, in 2006, the project was ditched after a hastily-written advisory vote was placed on Spokane’s November ballot. Though the totals were close (52-48), STA and local leaders considered it a mandate against light rail.

Now, light rail as a proposal is back from the grave. The Inland Empire Rail Transit Association, or InlandRail, has shown its first concrete signs of life since 2011. The organization recently engaged in a billboard campaign, and a recent Spokesman-Review article noted the possibilities that LRT presents. There’s a renewed sense that light rail could be one solution in an overall package of transportation projects designed to plan for future growth in the area. Even STA has suggested light rail for the South Valley corridor. It’s clear that a new sense of optimism has developed surrounding transit projects in the area.

After the break, view more videos of the original light rail proposal.

Continue reading “Spokane-area light rail lives?”