26-story “Falls Tower” near University District promises to add around 200 units downtown

Here's a view of the proposed "Falls Tower" as it would look from Spokane Falls Boulevard. Note the large parking garage and comparatively narrow building. (PHOTO: Spokane Permits)
Here’s an early conceptual view of the proposed “Falls Tower” as it would look from Spokane Falls Boulevard. Note the large parking garage and comparatively narrow building. (PHOTO: Spokane Permits)

Back in November, a Spokane Valley dentist and developer, proposed a $50 million, 35-story high-rise at the corner of Division and Spokane Falls Boulevard in downtown Spokane. Many believed the proposal to be unlikely to ever come to fruition. But now, the lot at 230 N Division has resurfaced in a new proposal.

Lanzce Douglass has submitted an application to Spokane Development and Planning Services for a Pre-Development Conference on the proposal, which would construct a 26-story building which he calls “The Falls Tower.” It is unknown whether Philip Rudy, the dentist, is still involved. The new mixed-use high-rise would include 15,978 square feet of retail on the first floor, followed by about two dozen floors of apartments. That’s around 200 units (studios, one-bedrooms, and two-bedrooms). A six-story parking garage would also be constructed. In total, 26 floors would be constructed. Note the slightly more varied architectural style from Spokane’s most recent project, the Davenport Grand Hotel. Still, windows seem to follow a relatively generic form and minimal balconies or interesting architectural treatments are included.

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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.

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.

Gonzaga District set to receive 60 additional student-housing units

This lot, at 940 N Ruby, is set to be transformed into a major 60-unit apartment complex aimed at Gonzaga University students. (PHOTO: Google Street View)
This lot, at 940 N Ruby, is set to be transformed into a major 60-unit apartment complex aimed at Gonzaga University students. (PHOTO: Google Street View)

A California-based developer is getting ready to start construction on a 60-unit apartment complex aimed at Gonzaga students but otherwise unaffiliated with the university. At 940 N Ruby, he will construct a five-story building with surface parking underneath residential units, a la Kennedy Apartments. A Pre-Development Conference and SEPA Review have been completed with an apparent determination of non-significance. The city’s permitting database has not yet been updated with appropriate approval documents, but with SEPA listed as “Closed,” it appears that this project is ready to get going.

While the project won’t be quite as pedestrian-friendly as the Kennedy Apartments (there will be a surface parking lot between the building and Ruby Street), five-story construction should add some much-needed density along this particular stretch of the Division/Ruby corridor. Project plans are available on the city’s Online Permit System. Combined with the Ruby Suites (former Burgan’s Block), Kennedy, and other Gonzaga-Downtown housing, this area has in seven short years increased its housing supply by orders of magnitude. Especially when you consider that 60 units here will probably house around 200 students.

No word on whether this is the 60-unit housing development KXLY reported as planned for “between the University District and downtown.” Anyone have any idea?

What do you think? Are you excited about the addition of new residential units on the Division/Ruby corridor? Are you excited about infill possibilities between Division and Ruby? What’s next for this area? Share your thoughts in our comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

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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If It Had Happened, Part 4: Gateway Office Building

The Gateway Office Building, which would have been located near Division in Spokane's primary entry corridor. (PHOTO: Stephen Meek Architects)
The Gateway Office Building, which would have been located near Division in Spokane’s primary entry corridor. (PHOTO: Stephen Meek Architects)

Here’s a project which would have changed the face of Spokane near one of its major entry points forever. And it might have just been the most architecturally-distinctive developments in Spokane’s history. The Gateway Office Building would have been built in downtown Spokane between the East End and the University District, acting as a sort of “bridge” between those two rapidly-developing areas downtown, just as it serves as a “gateway” to our city. Hence the name.

As proposed in early 2007, otherwise known as Spokane’s development “black hole,” due to the high number of projects that were proposed but never saw the light of day, the Gateway Office Building would have featured eleven stories, with retail space on the ground floor. At 365,000 square feet, it would have been a large building with four stories and 400 total parking spots. Renderings reveal that AdvantageIQ was the proposed major tenant. AdvantageIQ later became Ecova and, somewhat regretfully, took a major position in the Rock Pointe Office Building instead of moving to this building, which, you guessed it, was scuttled due to the economic crisis.

See more renderings after the break.

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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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Idea #8: A Dedicated HOV/Transit Lane on Division

(PHOTO: Greater Greater Washington)

Today we get specific in our run-down of our ideas for the greater Spokane area. We envision a dedicated HOV/Transit Lane on Division Street from downtown to the “Y” or even beyond. Such a lane could be implemented to improve traffic flow, lower emissions, and decrease commute times. With a virtual sea of lanes already in existence on Division, and with many vehicles carrying two or more passengers, the conversion of one lane could make a world of difference.

In other cities, such as Sunnyvale, CA and other areas of the Silicon Valley, similar HOV/Transit Lanes have been implemented in the right-most lane, with right-turns permitted from that lane. Other places implement the dedicated lanes in the left-most lane, targeting the facility toward commuters who must travel long distances on that street.

Either way, we suggest that an HOV/Transit lane be fully studied in order to determine the possibilities that it could offer in terms of reducing and calming traffic.

What do you think? Could an HOV/Transit lane make a difference in combatting traffic? Would it be beneficial to study this idea further? Would syncing the lights on Division be a better use of dollars? Let us know in the comments and in social media on Facebook and Twitter. We want to hear from you!