To incentivize redevelopment, City explores increasing height limits near Riverfront Park

Current building code allows for buildings along Spokane Falls Boulevard with roughly this “maximum building envelope”––in other words, the largest a building can possibly be built on these sites. (PHOTO: City of Spokane)

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.

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Otis Hotel renovation moves forward

After lying vacant for more than a decade following a botched condominium plan, the Otis Hotel is set to reopen…as a hotel. (PHOTO: Spokane Historic Preservation Office)

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.

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After 10 years, Spokane looks toward major downtown plan update in 2018

Under the cover of Fast Forward Spokane was a relatively forward-thinking, future-focused plan document highlighting policies related to environmental sustainability, housing, land use, and various other areas. The plan is being revised in 2018. (PHOTO: Fast Forward Spokane Plan)

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”

Four new luxury lofts join downtown residential roster above Nudo and Fire

Four new luxury housing units have been added above Nudo and Fire on West Sprague in downtown Spokane. (PHOTO: Tony Roslund/HDG Architecture)

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.

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Otis Hotel micro-apartments in early-stage development

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The former Otis Hotel building, along with the Commercial Building next door, is one of the final missing links in the redevelopment puzzle along the East End. A number of projects are proposed or underway in the growing downtown district. (PHOTO: historicspokane.org)

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.

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Major new mixed-use housing development proposed in the University District

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The developers behind the 940 North student housing building are back at it with the “University District Apartments” building, proposed for 230 N Division on the East End of downtown Spokane. The six-story building features significant architectural interest first-floor retail. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.com)

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.

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It’s time to put a moratorium on new skywalk construction

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Spokane’s skywalk system was once the second-largest in the United States. It served its purpose for almost fifty years, but recently their presence has been more of a hindrance to the success of downtown than a benefit. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Why?

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!

Is the West End of Downtown Spokane the new East End?

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The former Otis Hotel building, along with the Commercial Building next door, is one of the final missing links in the redevelopment puzzle along the East End. A number of projects are proposed or underway in the growing downtown district. (PHOTO: historicspokane.org)

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!

A closer look at three important ways to improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan

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This is the site plan for the Jensen-Byrd District, as proposed by JB Development, a partnership between Wally Trace and McKinstry. A few changes would dramatically improve the development plan for the site, making it more inviting for the next fifty-plus years. (PHOTO: jensenbyrd.com)

When the Jensen-Byrd District plan was revealed in full for the first time last week, we rightfully noted the spectacular form and scale that the plan took. At 250,000 square feet, it’s the largest downtown Spokane development in nearly a generation. And by including space well-suited for high-tech and biotech companies, it could mark a turning point in Spokane’s overall economy.

But it’s important to note also that the site plan has some significant pain-points, challenges which we expect to be resolved before the developer is granted a building permit. It’s easy to forget that once a building is built, it’s likely to remain there for at the very minimum, fifty years (well, most of the time). That’s why we need to ensure that this development is held to a high standard: the University District is intended to drive Spokane’s economy in the 21st century and beyond. To create a place fit for the next fifty-plus years, we need to do better than the current plan. Here are some concrete steps to making that happen.

1. Create a better, more inviting, and more distinct north landing for the University District Pedestrian Bridge. In the current plan, a pedestrian crossing the bridge northbound will land facing the parking garage, where it’s unclear whether there will be a clear path forward to the Jensen-Byrd Building itself. At this landing, there should be some wayfinding information, as well as other active space, such as retail on the first floor of the parking garage. Imagine an inviting cafe or coffeehouse with outdoor seating and programmable space. There should also be an easy path through the parking garage to the Jensen-Byrd. (It appears that there may be an alleyway of some kind for this purpose; how could this alley be made more inviting for pedestrians? Overhead lights? Restaurant space a la Mizuna?)

2. Develop a phased master plan for the overall site, including development for the surface parking lots included in the current site plan. There’s zero justification for the surface parking lots to remain on the site plan, given the 450-space parking garage included in the first phase. This land would be better put to use in the interim as open space or public parkland; in the future, it should be developed to support the continued growth of the University District. As of now, however, we don’t know when or whether that will happen. This planning and building approval process should include specific planning for these sites.

3. Repave the section of Main Street in front of the Jensen-Byrd Building with brick, and close it to vehicles, to create a more inviting pedestrian landscape and a plaza of sorts for events and special occasions. Even if the street is not closed to vehicles, it would be more vibrant, more interesting, and more programmable if paved with brick. Imagine Friday food truck gardens or Saturday farmers’ markets on this site. Paved with brick, this could become a huge selling point to any potential tenant of the Jensen-Byrd District development.

Overall, these three changes could go a long way toward improving the Jensen-Byrd District plan. It’s unclear what degree of flexibility to public comment the developers will have, but it’s worth a shot. Fortunately, it’s likely that design review will be required for this project. We will share information on public comment when it becomes available.

In the meantime, your best bet to offer feedback for the project is to use the comment form on the development’s website. Be sure to select “other” for the contact category so it’s directed to the right people. Perhaps we can make a difference in improving this project.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Would these improvements help improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan to make it more future-proof and vibrant? Would you approve of a better connection from the Pedestrian Bridge, given the large amount of public funding going to that project? What about brick paving for Main Ave? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments below. We love to hear from you!

 

Idea #28: Bikeshare system

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Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare has been successful in enabling last-mile connections and easy tourist connections. It has also exceeded expectations in placemaking, remaking many of its station areas into plazas and new public space. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Across the country, bikeshare systems are adding to the array of multimodal and diverse public transportation choices while allowing an opportunity for private companies and vendors to capture a new market. In addition, these bicycle rental and subscription services can help to build new urban spaces, diverse and innovative squares, and centers for public life. Even a simple intersection can become a “place,” if enhanced with a bike station, benches, and perhaps curb bulb-outs or other streetscape enhancements.

It’s time for Spokane to join these cities.

Imagine the potential of a bikeshare system with stations in Browne’s Addition, the University District, near Gonzaga University, on Hamilton, in the Garland District, in the South Perry, and in multiple locations downtown. Imagine the potential of being able to grab a bike downtown and ride to grab a pizza at the Elk in Browne’s Addition, then take a Spokane Transit bus home. Imagine the potential of riding from the Garland District to Kendall Yards, and never having to worry about finding a bike rack or carrying a lock. Instead, you can just drop the bike at a station.

And bikeshare would take advantage of our growing bicycle infrastructure in Spokane, including added bike lanes on Main Avenue and other area roads and streets. It could help to grow Spokane’s bicycle culture from niche to mainstream. And that’s something that could benefit us all, through a more active streetscape and a greater availability of alternative commuting options.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Would a bikeshare system work in Spokane? Where would you like to see a station? Do you see bikeshare as a viable option for commuting, or more of an alternative for tourists and convention guests? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you!