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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Idea #27: Return downtown’s street grid to two-way traffic

main-street-concept
Downtown Spokane’s Main Avenue on the East End is currently under discussion for major improvements, including center-lane parking, new street trees, and pedestrian enhancements, like a mid-block crossing. (PHOTO: City of Spokane)
In late 2008, in the middle of the Great Recession, the struggling downtown area in Vancouver, Wash. decided to make a change. A cheap change, but a big change. In essence, it painted a yellow line down the middle of Main Street, changed some signage and traffic lights, and opened the street to two-way traffic.

The results were almost instantaneous. Within a few short weeks, the businesses downtown reported a massive surge in customers. And why not? Two-way streets better encourage pedestrian activity, smooth and slow traffic, and, perhaps most critically for Spokane, ease the difficulty of finding a metered parking spot. They’re also easier to navigate for visitors and residents alike. One-way streets are literally a relic of our nation’s Cold War-era past, built primarily to allow for swift evacuations and troop deployments in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

So let’s return to a two-way street grid downtown.

Sure, it’ll be harder to convert the Lincoln/Monroe and Division/Browne couplets, but other streets could be converted with relatively little difficulty. Like Stevens. Like Washington. Like Sprague. Like First Avenue.

And of course, like Main Avenue. City officials and East End businesses have been working for years on a project that would add center-lane parking on Main Avenue, but for little apparent reason maintain that street’s one-way status. That’s absurd. Converting the street to serve both eastbound and westbound traffic would enhance both the pedestrian and the vehicular experience, improving navigation, parking, and the streetscape. It’s time to stop talking. Downtown Spokane should be a people-friendly place, welcoming to all types of commuters–pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and drivers. It should make navigation simple and easy, and walking a breeze. Vitality on the sidewalk should be the first and foremost priority. And the potential here is huge. So let’s make it happen. Let’s convert more streets downtown to two-way traffic.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Should Main Avenue and potentially other streets downtown be converted back to two-way status?  Why do you think there hasn’t been more progress on this in recent years? And would you be more likely to go downtown if navigation and parking were enhanced along with the pedestrian experience? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments below. We love to hear from you.

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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Idea #20: Underground Tours

The basement of the Hutton Building on downtown Spokane's East End features an old trunk company's signage and creepy-looking hallways. (PHOTO: Spokane Teachers' Credit Union)
The basement of the Hutton Building on downtown Spokane’s East End features an old trunk company’s signage and creepy-looking hallways. (PHOTO: Spokane Teachers’ Credit Union)

As with many cities, Downtown Spokane has a rich, colorful history. From the Great Spokane Fire to West Trent, from speakeasies to single-room occupancy hotels (SRO hotels). It’s a storied past, and one that comes with a lot of baggage. For the longest time, that baggage simply went unnoticed, and passageways and basements were lost and forgotten.

But with the recent building remodels which have been going on downtown, these places have in some cases been rediscovered. STCU, for example, recently posted photos of the basement of the Hutton Building, where it has been completing a major renovation.

And indeed, it does make us wonder: does Spokane have enough history in the basement tunnels and passageways and hallways to create a tour? Seattle’s Underground Tour is wildly popular, and to be clear, our city doesn’t have the same amount of interesting sites, but it would be an interesting pitch. What if Spokane had an underground tour?

Any basements that you would particularly like to see? Any secret tunnels or passageways? Would you go on the tour? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter. We love to hear from you!

KXLY makes a major last-sentence announcement: 150 downtown units

Prium Companies’ 153 S Wall development, proposed in 2006, originally contained 96 units. KXLY is reporting that a Spokane developer has plans for a 90-unit development somewhere downtown. But where? (PHOTO: Prium Companies)

Spokane local news has a history of making off-the-cuff announcements without much substantiation or explanation. However, we were still pretty surprised to hear their latest scoop: 150 housing units downtown. In their latest story about downtown development, they dropped this bombshell:

We’ve also received word construction will begin next month on a 60-unit apartment complex set between the University District and downtown. A different 90-unit complex is expected to be built downtown starting in January 2015.

Who’ll be building these units? And where? How? When? Who’s the contractor? The architect? KXLY’s story leaves us with little new information.

We think we’ve nailed down the 60-unit complex “between the University District and downtown,” and though their story makes it seem like a project for the East End/West Main area, all indications are that it will be located on Ruby (near Chipotle). But we’ll bring you more on that tomorrow.

The big news is the 90-unit development set “to be built downtown starting in January 2015.” Who are KXLY’s sources? What are they hearing? It could be anywhere, but considering the scale of some of the most recent major downtown apartment proposals, it could be as significant as 153 S Wall, a major downtown development by Prium Companies which was scuttled during the financial crisis but which originally sought to build 96 units. Time will tell, and we’ll keep you posted.

What do you think? Are you excited for the addition of 150 units to the downtown or North Bank areas? Do you have any more information on either the 60-unit or the 90-unit projects set to start construction soon? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

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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