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 #23: Terrain meets TED

There’s something about Terrain that draws people in…is it the curation? The underground vibe? What is it? And how can we transfer that success to a major innovation conference for Spokane? (PHOTO: Terrain Spokane)

Terrain is cool. If nothing else, this year’s event proved that. Terrain 7 received more submissions than ever before, and the resulting curated one-night-only event drew in a record number of visitors. Better yet, the burgeoning movement has launched a campaign for a permanent venue at its new home in the Washington Cracker Company Building on Pacific.

TED is cool. The innovation and leadership conference has grown from humble beginnings into a worldwide phenomenon drawing thousands of changemakers every meeting and hundreds of millions of YouTube views.

Which brings forth an interesting question: what would happen if Spokane brought together the hyper-cool creative atmosphere of Terrain and the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of TED? Imagine a one-day-only conference focusing on innovation, creativity, and change. Imagine Spokane drawing together leaders in technology, the physical sciences, the social sciences, the arts, and others in a common, one-night festival of what’s next, what’s new, and what’s inspiring. We already have a TEDx event, but it’s small, limited in scope, and ineffective at building Spokane’s innovation culture.

This conference needs to be big.

Like, Convention Center or INB Performing Arts Center big. We need to inspire Spokane’s youngest kids to get interested in STEAM-based careers. We need to grow our startup infrastructure into something that can support a vibrant technology sector. We need to continue to develop strong events that build participation in local arts and culture. A TED-style event with the spirit, drive, and curation of Terrain could make that happen.

What do you think? Would you like to see a TED-style event in Spokane? What do you think of adding Terrain’s signature style and curation? Do you think that such a move could help to inspire the next generation of local youth to explore STEAM careers? What about growing our startup or innovation culture? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

Mobile Murals Project goes live with a public Call for Submissions

The empty lot at Third and Division will see a lot fewer weeds and a lot more art with the public call for artists’ mural submissions released by Spokane Arts today. (PHOTO: Google Street View)

In February, during our Launch Week, we suggested that in order to improve the public image of our city at a major gateway, enhance opportunities for artistic expression, and finally do something about a significant nagging problem, the local community should rally behind the creation of a public mural at Third and Division.

What we didn’t realize then was that numerous individuals were already working on a similar idea.

In mid-July, the post went viral. Spurred by posts, shares, and other activity on social media, it gained steam. Around the same time, representatives from Spokane Arts, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, and the City of Spokane had begun formal planning meetings to make the concept happen. The idea was popping up independently in different places because it struck a nerve: why couldn’t our most important entry point be something other than an ugly pit? In time, Councilman Mike Allen committed funds to the project, and it began to look like it was coming together.

And here we are today: launch day. Today, Spokane Arts released its official call for submissions to the aptly-named Mobile Murals Project. The program will clean up vacant lots and construction sites around the city, starting with Third and Division. The first round of submissions will close August 25, with selection by August 29 and installation in early October. We encourage all interested artists to submit proposals. Because it’s our city. Let’s build it up.

How to (temporarily) fix the empty lot at 3rd and Division

3rd and Division has sat empty, dilapidated, and decaying for more than five years. We might have a temporary solution. (PHOTO: Google Street View)
3rd and Division has sat empty, dilapidated, and decaying for more than five years since the Best Western Peppertree Inn proposal was abandoned. We might have a temporary solution. (PHOTO: Google Street View)

You heard it here first, folks: 3rd and Division is officially the worst intersection in Spokane. No, it doesn’t have the ruts and crumbling asphalt of High Drive and Grand Boulevard, but it does have an empty lot with extremely unsightly rebar and concrete, remnants of an abandoned low-rise hotel project which will be the subject of a future If It Had Happened post.

City leaders have repeatedly tried to entice developers to this site, starting with the original owners, who are presumed to have finally sold the lot in the spring of 2013. Naturally, 3rd and Division serve as a gateway to Spokane and the south end of the Division Street Gateway project, so it’s not surprising that the City is attempting to get more involved. But despite this interest, the site still sits, languishing further by the day. Literally nothing has been done to improve it in the interim, despite the fact that an extremely small investment could result in a much more pleasant intersection.

Here’s our short term solution: erect a temporary construction fence and set local artists loose. What do we mean? Check out some examples and a call to action after the break. We want to make this actually happen.

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