Signs of life on North Monroe

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North Monroe’s Jenkins Building has a new owner with his eye set on major improvements. (PHOTO: Google Street View)

Add 10-16 units to the “under construction” or “proposed” downtown or near-downtown housing totals. The Spokesman-Review is reporting that the Jenkins Building, home to Alpine Bistro and Bakery, will be extensively remodeled and refurbished by new owner Mark Agee. Agee is the CEO of Pamiris, an HR management and payroll information systems company he started with his wife, and is well-known in the local community for his service to the low-income population.

The building, at 802 N Monroe, dates to 1910 and features both retail and office space. The upper two floors will be converted to 10-16 apartments, likely in keeping with Agee’s strategy of providing low-income housing for chronically underserved populations. An elevator will be added, and Alpine Bistro will remain. Regardless, the addition of new residents to this area of Spokane reminds us of 2007 plans to improve the streetscape on North Monroe. That plan called for traffic calming, tree islands, improved intersections, and a general revitalization a la South Perry. It should be interesting to see if those plans are revisited with the new redevelopment.

What do you think? Are you excited for the addition of new residents to the North Monroe area? Does this revitalization of a historic building bode well for the cause of historic preservation? Share your thoughts in our comments section below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

What is Density? A Brief Explainer Video

Through the use of strong zoning guidelines, incentivized infill, and the city working with developers, Vancouver has gradually become one of the most dense cities in North America. (PHOTO: Planetizen)

With urban development becoming a hot topic around the Spokane area, we figured it would be helpful if we made a quick explainer video on density. Density refers to the amount of development within a given area, and it can have pretty broad implications for urban sprawl, vibrancy, transit, and even public health.

Watch the video on Adobe’s website, here.

After you watch, come back to this page and add your thoughts. Does Spokane have a healthy density balance? How can we prioritize increased density in the Spokane area? How can we increase the benefits of density while limiting its downsides? Comment on this post with your thoughts, or chime in on Facebook and Twitter. We love to hear from you!

Idea #16: Create a week-long festival-like atmosphere surrounding Bloomsday

Bloomsday is one of Spokane’s most-cherished and best-loved events, attracting runners from all over the region and world. How could we better capitalize on its clear economic clout and increase civic pride? (PHOTO: BestRoadRaces.com)

The Lilac Bloomsday Run has been a Spokane mainstay for nearly two generations. Through its 38-year history, the race has grown into an event and spectacle unlike any other, featuring a full two-day trade show, a small festival of sorts in Riverfront Park, and the colorful characters and costumes that have helped make the event famous. The giant buzzard at the top of Doomsday Hill comes to mind. Or the woman who dresses as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz every year. Or the inevitable gorilla-suited individuals. Or the infamous bucket band. They’re quirky, weird, even bizarre, but they help make Spokane, Spokane.

What if we could extend this liveliness, this energy, this sense for the delightfully weird so that it could last longer, sustain itself longer, fester longer? What if we had a week-long Bloomsday Festival? This event could run the week leading up to Bloomsday, and it could feature nightly live music or family movies in Riverfront Park, food truck rallies, vendor sales, and street parades. We could bring in runners, triathletes, wheelchair runners to talk about training and the importance of a healthy lifestyle. This could be a great time to educate citizens and hold “ciclovia”/Summer Parkways-style events. Imagine a yoga session with a thousand participants in Riverfront Park. Or healthy-eating seminars at Riverpark Square and across the city. Or an “envision your future Spokane” session with planners taking notes from hundreds of engaged citizens; there could be no better time to get local input. Indeed, imagine the possibilities! Overall, the festival would focus on active, engaged lifestyles and maintaining balance in a 24-hour world.

What do you think? Could Bloomsday be expanded into a week-long festival of healthy lifestyles and civic pride? What events would you like to see? How can we grow civic pride by better utilizing our existing events? As always, we encourage you to comment below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

Boise named a “Best City to move to”; What can Spokane do to land there?

Boise is thriving on a level which Spokane has not yet been able to attain. But we’re so similar to Boise that it shouldn’t be too far off. (PHOTO: Startup Boise)

Boise, Idaho, our perpetual rival and neighbor to the southeast, was just named by Simple Moving Labor as a “Best City to Move to in 2014.” This comes as Boise has been making national waves for its high quality of life, low cost of living, and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities (sound familiar?). Men’s Health, Livability.com, CNN Money, and the Brookings Institute have all recognized the city in recent years, and it’s clear that businesses are taking notice. The Idaho Statesman frequently reports on companies from local startups to big data firms locating in Boise, all locating there partially based on its high quality of life and low cost of living, as well as Idaho’s favorable business climate.

What can Spokane do to stay competitive?

“Boise embraces itself as a unique community,” Maryanne Jordan told KTVB. “We focus on a lot of local business, a lot of homegrown business. I think it’s a very diverse and inclusive community and that’s important. And you know … It’s beautiful. How can you not love it?”

Okay. So our inferiority complex doesn’t help. Better get off of that one. What else? Local business. We can do that. We have locally-grown companies big and small, from Boots Bakery all the way up to Itron. And Washington is frequently rated as one of the best states in the country in which to do business. We can provide some incentives. That might help. What about increasing quality of life? That might require some investment, but studies have shown that things like walking and biking trails, vibrant urban parks, and streetcar or light rail systems can spur long-term growth. These are obviously things that we need to start to look at.

But in the end, perhaps our inferiority complex looms even larger. We won’t get anything done until our city accepts that it is worth revitalizing, and I hope that with four distinctly beautiful seasons, a low cost of living, world-class outdoor recreation, and one of the world’s most beautiful urban rivers, residents realize the extreme potential which we are lucky to possess.

Kendall Yards #Progress: March 23, 2014

This mixed-use building at Kendall Yards will feature retail and restaurant space on the bottom floor and two stories of residential lofts on the upper floors.
This mixed-use building at Kendall Yards will feature retail and restaurant space on the bottom floor and two stories of residential lofts on the upper floors. Photo taken March 23, 2014.

Spring has sprung at Kendall Yards. The new urbanist/mixed use development near downtown has taken on a decidedly more urban (and local) feel of late, as Greenstone focuses on three new buildings in the neighborhood’s commercial district. With Yards Bruncheon now complete, construction is focused on Wandering Table next door, a building that will be the new permanent home for Veraci Pizza, and a new three-story mixed use building with streetfront retail and residential units above called the Highline Lofts. While some leases for the building are presumed to be signed, we only have confirmation that Brain Freeze Creamery will occupy the suite closest to Wandering Table on the western-most side of the building.

With all of these local restaurants joining Central Food, it’s pretty clear that the neighborhood has become a venue of choice for homegrown local businesses much more in line with reality than the Marshall Chesrown/Black Rock designs we saw (and salivated over) in 2006. We’re excited to see which tenants are lined up for the almost-complete Highline Lofts building, when a proposed four-story mixed-use building between Veraci Pizza and Spa Paradiso will break ground, and what will become of the rest of the neighborhood, especially with plans for additional surface parking in lieu of underground garages in the commercial district. Just try to keep that aspect to a minimum, okay, Greenstone?

For more construction and progress photos, hop along after the break.

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Idea #12: Build high-quality graduate programs (in diverse fields) at local universities

Gonzaga University offers a top-notch undergraduate experience, but their graduate programs lag painfully behind. Spokane’s long-term success in becoming a destination for young people hinges partially on high-quality graduate programs. (PHOTO: Dwayne Wright)

Myth: Spokane will never have young, urban professionals because young people tend to move away to go to school. Moreover, it does not have the jobs or the lifestyle opportunities to support them.

That myth has been told more than perhaps any other to describe the demise of culture in Spokane. But here’s the thing: it’s completely and utterly false. In terms of potential to attract the type of young, urban professionals that Spokane needs to thrive, we have as much or more than any other comparable city. We have four universities located within city limits, with Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University, and Washington State University located in the University District downtown and Whitworth University holding up the fort in north Spokane. We have a low cost of living, an abundance of affordable housing, and  We great food, excellent shopping, and outstanding cultural opportunities right downtown and four seasons of recreation within as little as a five-minute drive (or less!) Everything seems to be right for Spokane to become an “it” place.

So why hasn’t it?

The answer is probably more complicated than just the issue of education, but education plays a big role. WSU Spokane focuses almost entirely on medicine and nursing, which are great, but hardly harness the innovation and creativity of students. (And, it should be noted, that’s probably for the best. The thought of a doctor innovating a new treatment off-the-cuff and without guidance conjures up frightening possibilities.) When they aren’t educating students for the healthcare profession, they’re providing MBAs and HPAs to professionals already in stable careers. Gonzaga University, meanwhile, has gutted its graduate engineering program, choosing instead to focus almost entirely on undergraduates. It’s the same story at EWU Spokane.

In order to grow our young, urban professional population and increase the availability of high-paying, high-quality jobs, our universities must broaden their scope and offer more, better graduate programs to more people.

I’m thinking of graduate engineering. I’m thinking of entrepreneurship. I’m thinking of computer science and engineering. I’m thinking of information systems. I’m thinking of economics. (There’s an innovation and high-tech economy in Spokane that sits just bubbling under the surface, waiting to be explored!)

The sooner Spokane, or better, the State of Washington, realizes this and provides benefits to universities for adding new programs, the better. We need graduate education in order to thrive, and the status quo will not cut it. It’s time to build graduate education in Spokane.

What are your thoughts? Share your comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, on other social media, or even amongst your friends in person. We want to hear from you!

UPDATE: Convention Center Hotel creates…a dead urban street?

Friday's rendering of the Convention Center Hotel, set to be complete in 2015, paints a bleak picture for development on East Main.
Friday’s rendering of the Convention Center Hotel, set to be complete in 2015, paints a bleak picture for development on East Main. (PHOTO: The Davenport Hotel Collection)

Okay, so there are windows, I suppose. But other than that, newly-released renderings reveal that Walt Worthy’s Convention Center Hotel won’t do much to improve the pedestrian experience on East Main. While in the past, pedestrians walking on the north side of Main were forced for walk past several surface parking lots, now they will have to endure four floors of above-ground parking with minimal facade improvements and interaction with the built environment.

Had the parking for Convention Center Hotel been built underground or in a better configuration, this could have been an incredible opportunity to revitalize two streets instead of one, especially with re-development at the former Huppin’s Building and at the Bennett Block, both of which are in the midst of major remodels. Imagine streetfront retail or restaurants on this side of the building. The result would have been a more continuous string of restaurants and smart downtown retail all the way to Main Market and beyond. That would have provided an economic boost and a cultural boost. This in contrast with the Spokane Falls Boulevard-side of the building, which looks comparatively excellent for pedestrian interaction and space (see a photo after the break).

Instead, we are left with a mostly uninviting urban environment reminiscent of the currently-empty downtown EWU Center.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, on Facebook, and all over the web. We love to hear from you.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Convention Center Hotel creates…a dead urban street?”

What the Google Fiber expansion means for Spokane

Google is expanding its fiber-optic business to as many as thirty new cities in nine metropolitan areas as it readies a nationwide push for faster data speeds. (PHOTO: Google)

We wrote a couple weeks ago that building an expansive fiber-optic network should be one of City Hall’s top priorities. With the recent announcement that Google Fiber is expanding to new cities, we have a clearer picture of how Spokane might be able to get in on the action. Most importantly, Google describes its planning process for Fiber as one with two parts. First, cities complete what the company calls a “fiber-ready” checklist. Then a detailed city study begins. Spokane can get a head start on other cities that will inevitably be competing for fiber in the future by completing a checklist now.

 

Spokane can procure the necessary maps of existing utility poles, gas, power, and water lines. It can provide a clearer picture of the existing fiber services and dark fiber that are lying dormant underneath the city. It can streamline the permitting and approvals process for fiber-optic lines regardless of whether or not Google comes knocking sometime down the road. These moves would be beneficial for any potential actor to get in on the fiber action. It doesn’t have to be Google. In fact, numerous companies operate fiber optic networks within the city already, albeit on a primarily commercial customer basis. By making this information more readily available and making it easier to get a permit for work on internet infrastructure, Spokane could jumpstart a potential fiber expansion.

What are your thoughts? Can the dark fiber be lit? Would Spokane be better served by a municipal internet utility that works like its existing water and garbage services? What’s next for Spokane? Share your comments below, on Twitter, on Facebook, and around the web. 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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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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