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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It’s time to bring a German-style Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) to Spokane

weihnachtsmarkt-annaberg
In much of northern Europe, the Weihnachtsmarkt (German for “Christmas Market”) has become not just a tradition, but a cultural institution. Imagine a Christmas Market in Spokane alongside Winter Glow and a revitalized, newly urbanized ice skating rink. (PHOTO: Grenzenloses Erzgebirge)

The launch of the Facebook page of the Spokane Chinese Lantern Festival got me thinking about the different types of cultural events that would fit Spokane in the future. Not long ago, it was difficult to imagine these types of festivals taking place in our city. But with the rise in popularity of Craft Beer Week, Inlander Restaurant Week, Terrain and Bazaar, the Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular, and now the Chinese Lantern Festival, it’s not hard to see bright possibilities for the future. Personally, I think Spokane needs to next develop its winter offerings to include a German-style Christmas Market.

In Germany, even small villages host Weihnachtsmarkten. Vendors sell hand-crafted goods, like ornaments, gifts, and toys. Typically, there’s fresh local food available, like wursts, kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), and other delicacies. Oh, and the glühwein (mulled wine) flows generously. Imagine how a small- to medium-sized Christmas Market could work in Spokane. I could see it taking place near the Rotary Fountain in Riverfront Park, to complement the soon-to-move ice skating rink in the Gondola Meadow and Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular, the large winter lights show. While open container laws would likely put a damper on any plans to allow patrons to roam freely with mulled wine, perhaps a wine garden (weingarten?) could be established. Or maybe a waiver of the open container law could be granted for this specific event, as has occurred in other cities.

Either way, a Christmas Market would be a really cool way for downtown Spokane to continue to distinguish itself during the holiday season. There’s even the possibility of adding a Spokane-esque twist, like curated booths a la Bazaar, or maybe a way to include winter-releases from local craft breweries. With eight months to go, perhaps something could even happen this year. Let’s make it happen.

What are your thoughts? What cultural festivals would you like to see take place in Spokane? Do you think a Christmas Market would be a good addition to downtown Spokane during the holiday season? What other new attractions would you like to see this Christmas?

Huntington Park and City Plaza officially open to the public

Downtown Spokane is known nationwide for the Spokane Falls. With Avista's Huntington Park, the falls become more accessible (and beautiful!) than ever before. (PHOTO: Avista Utilities)
Downtown Spokane is known nationwide for the Spokane Falls. With Avista’s Huntington Park, the falls become more accessible (and beautiful!) than ever before. (PHOTO: Avista Utilities)

After almost a year of construction, last Friday, Huntington Park and City Plaza officially opened to the public. The new park and plaza, funded by Avista Utilities as a gift to the city in its 125th Anniversary Year, offer an up-close and personal view of the Spokane Falls. Featuring refurbished staircases, a new grassy area, and a shelter of sorts, the park is a marked improvement from its previous iteration. Even better, it offers a clearer entrance area: the soon-to-be-christened City Plaza offers an amphitheater-like area, a direct connection to Riverfront Park, and clear entry to the entire complex that doesn’t make it feel like you’re trespassing.

Perhaps more than anything else, Huntington Park offers a tantalizing vision of what Spokane’s future could look like with a potential full renovation of Riverfront Park, additional shoreline and river access improvements, and direct trail connections through the Centennial Trail and Kendall Yards. And we can’t help but notice that this park with dramatically increase property values for the Post Street Substation/Washington Water Power Building and City Hall. Perhaps it’s time for Avista to relocate the substation and turn it into loft condos? Better yet, perhaps the City could swap City Hall with a developer willing to build a residential tower. Anything to get more residents downtown!

Huntington Park and City Plaza are certainly the types of projects that will get them there.

What do you think? Have you visited Huntington Park yet? Would you buy a loft condo in the Washington Water Power Building? Do you think City Hall should relocate and sell to a developer?

The Value of Public Space in Urban Environments

“Pocket parks” like this one in New York City can create vibrant urban gathering spaces that entice passersby and residents alike. And they pay long-term economic dividends too! (PHOTO: Sustainable Cities Collective)

Urban Land reports on the importance of public spaces in making livable communities work. Specifically, the article focuses on the value of parks, gardens, rooftop gardens, and other spaces in urban environments, as well as the return that they generate. The High Line, in New York City, for example, cost the city $115 million in public funds and $44 million from the private sector, but increased boosted property values around the 1.5-mile elevated former freight rail line by as much as $2 billion and added 12,000 jobs to the local economy. That’s a killer ROI.

In addition, the article notes that safety and accessibility are key, as is adaptability. If the park or public space cannot be used for other purposes, then in many cases it may as well not be built. Hopefully the planners of the Riverfront Park Master Plan will keep this in mind when working on designs. We’ve also heard that the South Hill Coalition has some pocket parks and other small urban spaces up their sleeves as well, so perhaps we could see some nice urban spaces in neighborhoods in our future.

What do you think? Could Spokane use more urban spaces? What does the ROI for the High Line tell you about the economic potential of open space and public space investment? Share your comments here, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you!

This Week in Public Meetings: 4/24 – 5/2

At the former U.S. Pavilion, the Parks Board is discussing recovering the structure with a movable dome that could feature revolving light displays or projections. (PHOTO: Spokane Riverfront Park on Facebook)
At the former U.S. Pavilion, the Parks Board is discussing recovering the structure with a movable dome that could feature revolving light displays or projections. (PHOTO: Spokane Riverfront Park on Facebook)

Okay, kinda-sorta a week. A lot of major issues are up for discussion in the coming days, and we urge readers of The #spokanerising Project to make a strong showing in support of our parks, our neighborhoods, and our communities.

Special Parks Board Meeting: Riverfront Park Master Plan. We’ve written extensively in the past about plans for Riverfront Park. Tonight, Thursday, April 24, the Parks Board will be hosting the second public comment period on the Riverfront Park Master Plan. Public testimony will be taken from 6-8pm in the City Council chambers. Free parking is available for participants in the Riverfront Park lots.

Summit for Neighborhood Fairness: Part II (The Strategy). Futurewise Spokane is collaborating with Spokane City Councilmembers, community groups, and neighborhoods to host a forum on possible policy changes that could result in more livable communities and environments. Participants will prioritize proposals and develop a clear strategy for their implementation. This will take place Wednesday, April 30 from 5:30p-7:30p at the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library. More information is available here.

Proposed Land Use Action: A Workshop for Neighborhoods. Futurewise Spokane will be working with neighborhood groups and its Director of Planning and Law, Tim Trohimovich to enlighten neighborhoods on strategies for land use proposals. Tim will be speaking about navigating the land use process, SEPA, and permitting processes. This will take place Thursday, May 1 at 2:30p at the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library. More information is available here.

These meetings are important for developing a strategy for Spokane’s future development and planning. We encourage readers to attend and offer a vision of a vibrant, denser, more livable Spokane where people love to live.

Idea #13: Turn up the #Volume509

Spokane’s Volume Music Festival, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Inlander, is a great event that needs to grow even further in order to build Spokane’s music destination credentials. (PHOTO: The Inlander)

Spokane’s Volume Music Festival, which is sponsored by the Inlander, is a fantastic event that has grown by leaps and bounds since its early days several years ago. Now being held for two days in late May, Volume has exceeded the wildest expectations of many, helping to launch newer groups and grow fan bases.

But let’s dream bigger. How about attracting some more regional acts? How about using new venues (that Riverfront Park amphitheater can’t be completed soon enough)? How about committing to making the event 100% all-ages? We’re looking forward to this year’s edition of Volume, but we can’t help but wonder what the year after will bring, or the year after that. Let’s hope it retains its hyper-local, non-commercialized roots while finding a good mix of local, regional, and perhaps smaller national (think indie bands with smaller fanbases) acts. There’s much to love about Spokane’s music scene, and Volume is an ode to its liveliness and authenticity.

An Update on Riverfront Park’s U.S. Pavilion

A possible rendering of Riverfront Park's iconic U.S. Pavilion, part of the legacy of Expo 74, with a new high-tech domed structure underneath the cables. (PHOTO: Olson Kundig Architects/Spokane Journal of Business)
A possible rendering of Riverfront Park’s iconic U.S. Pavilion, part of the legacy of Expo 74, with a new high-tech domed structure underneath the cables. (PHOTO: Olson Kundig Architects/Spokane Journal of Business)

New renderings were unveiled Friday illustrating a possible future for Riverfront Park. Under this scenario, the U.S. Pavilion, the most iconic piece of the legacy of Spokane’s World’s Fair in 1974, would be extensively remodeled with a new night-lit superstructure underneath the cables. This is in stark contrast to the last plan we heard, which would have recovered the entire pavilion with a new type of durable teflon-coated fiberglass.

Also released were images of a potential new building for the Looff Carousel (which nicely matches the style Fountain Cafe, built in 2013, while more than doubling the square footage) and for a world-class climbing gym that has been proposed by a private developer for the North Bank. It’s anticipated that a bond measure will be brought to voters in November to pay for these improvements.

We won’t lie: the Riverfront Park plans, combined with Walt Worthy’s Convention Center Hotel and the remodeling of the Bennett Block and the former Huppin’s Building, promise to do more for Spokane than anyone realizes. The next few years are set to bring a lot of positive change to downtown, and we’re so excited to be sharing it with you.

View more photos after the break.

READ MORE:

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Idea #11: Make the U.S. Pavilion a Community “Lantern”

Imagine this, but spread throughout the entire Pavilion superstructure on a new, translucent material. (PHOTO: CardCow)

Among the proposals being considered as part of the Riverfront Park Master Plan, the Parks Board and the Riverfront Park Advisory Committee are exploring the possibility of recovering the U.S. Pavilion structure in Riverfront Park and lighting it in order to make an incredibly unique architectural statement.

During Expo 74, the Pavilion was covered by a white vinyl material that easily ripped and tore, exposing the structural steel underneath. After the World’s Fair, Spokane residents chose to keep the superstructure, but the vinyl cover posed a safety hazard, and was taken down. Now, we have the opportunity to re-cover the Pavilion with a “durable, translucent material like Teflon-coated fiberglass,” (The Inlander) that didn’t exist back in the 70s.

Most interestingly, however, this recovering invites the possibility of lighting the superstructure as a sort of “lantern” for the community. A color could be chosen for typical nights, but events would offer an opportunity to show some character. Imagine the possibilities! The Pavilion could be lit in blue and green for Seahawks games, or lilac for Lilac Festival, or the color of the Bloomsday shirt for that year, or rainbow for gay pride events, or blue and red during the Zags’ March Madness run.

What do you think? Should the Pavilion be recovered and lit? Do you think that it sends a unique statement to the community? Share your thoughts in comments, tweets, posts, and responses.

The Legacy of Expo ’74

PHOTO: Seville Enterprises, Inc.

Even now, Spokane is pretty proud of Expo ’74. As the smallest city to ever host a World’s Fair, we certainly have a right to be proud of the accomplishment. #spokanerising does its part with an Expo 74-inspired favicon and social media icons. But Expo really did clean up our dilapidated downtown. It really did relocate dozens of acres of railroad facilities, and it really did permanently throw our “Skid Row” of sorts, West Trent (now Spokane Falls Boulevard), out of the picture. Our Fair was the first ever to have an environmental theme, “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.” And no less, we had the chutzpah to celebrate the planet in an era defined by the consumption and excess of a steadily-growing American middle class. It was a bold statement on the part of a bold city.

But what is the legacy of Expo ’74? What has been the lasting benefit to our city and region?

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Idea #3: World-Class Outdoor Concert Ampitheater

Spokane needs a world-class downtown concert amphitheater. Shown here is Chicago’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a 11,000-capacity bandshell located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Luckily, just such a plan is in the works for completion as a part of the Riverfront Park Master Plan. While Spokane’s venue will probably hold more like 5,000-6,000 people, we do hope that planners take cues from Chicago’s stunning, award-winning design.