Everyone should be able to live downtown

Buder Haven and the Marilee––two “housing first” developments designed for people experiencing chronic homelessness––show that downtown is the perfect place for affordable housing. So why aren’t we building more of it? (PHOTO: Architexure Photography)

Downtown Spokane is, unquestionably, the most desirable place to live in the city. Between one of the nation’s most beautiful urban parks, our region’s highest Walkscores, stellar transit access, and excellent dining, shopping, and entertainment, it’s not surprising that people want to live in the core. And in recent years, rental and ownership prices for downtown- or downtown-adjacent housing has reflected this reality.

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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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Downtown Spokane’s parking surplus

Surface parking lots take up a considerable portion of downtown Spokane; seen here in red. Green represents Walt Worthy's under-construction Convention Center Hotel. (PHOTO: Google Maps)
Surface parking lots take up a considerable portion of downtown Spokane; seen here in red. Green represents Walt Worthy’s under-construction Convention Center Hotel. This is obviously an imprecise study. (PHOTO: Google Maps)

Look at all that space devoted to the temporary storage of vehicles. And that’s not even all of it! That’s just a small sampling of the surface parking lots located north of the railroad viaduct in downtown Spokane. I’m aware that I missed a few in West Downtown, but this paints a stark picture of an unfortunate reality. Surface parking diminishes urban vitality and wastes valuable space. Structured parking, while more expensive, is also more dense, and can allow for innovative first-floor retail and offices, or residences located above the parking.

In Spokane, speculative buyers have snatched up surface parking lots on prime development sites, knowing that their value will only increase in coming years. But this creates a problem: lots aren’t sold because the owners want too much for them, and developers wouldn’t be able to turn a profit at higher land costs. As a result, we get gridlock. Perhaps the issue could be at least partially solved by creating a public development commission or other authority with the power to buy up underutilized properties and sell them directly to the developers with the strongest and most realistic proposals for the sites. Portland has had tremendous success with this model, revitalizing neighborhood urban districts and breathing fresh life into its downtown area.

One site in particular that we’d like to see developed is the two-block surface parking lot centered at Spokane Falls Boulevard and Stevens (the lot between the Bennett Block and the Liberty Building). The Bennett Block is undergoing a major renovation, and the site seems prime for a residential mixed-use high-rise or two with abundant glass and perhaps One Lakeside-esque balconies. Who wants to make it happen?

What do you think? Does Spokane have too much surface parking? Could our city be better served by building out our parking lots and better economizing space? What about the idea of a public development commission? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook, and in conversation.