Boise’s City Council last summer did something pretty dramatic. In order to begin to fill demand for downtown housing, they announced a plan to award award grants and loan guarantees for apartments and condominiums in their downtown core. The goal? 1,000 new housing units within five years. Surprisingly, it’s not too ridiculous of an idea. Numerous developers have already jumped into the fray, planning to make use of special financing options, help with water and sewer from the local urban renewal agency, and of course, these grants.
It’s time Spokane set such an ambitious goal. 1,000 downtown units by 2020. Mark my words: we will make it happen. And we will do it with an attractive mix of housing options–from low-income apartments to luxury condominiums. Already Ron Wells plans to spend nearly $18 million remodeling the Ridpath Hotel into 200 low- and lower-middle income apartments and six luxury condominiums. Assuming this project reaches completion (Wells’ track record speaks for itself, although the Ridpath project has been plagued by delays), we’d be already one-fifth of the way to our goal. We could easily reach our goal if more developers jump on board. But they have to have some sort of incentive in place.
Adding residential to the mix downtown grows the population without increasing traffic or overburdening critical public services, like water, sewer, and fire protection. It adds more eyes to the street, reducing crime and making urban places more inviting for shoppers and residents alike. Suddenly the STA Plaza becomes an amenity, rather than a supposed eyesore. And perhaps most importantly, it grows the local economy by orders of magnitude. More residents downtown means more customers for local businesses like Nudo and Boots Bakery. It means more patrons at the Bartlett and more users on the Centennial Trail and in Riverfront Park. It means we’ll be better taking advantage of all that Spokane and the region has to offer. Moreover, study after study has proven that millennials and baby boomers alike prefer to live where all of their services are within easy walking distance. What better place than downtown?
Incentives need not be large. Boise is using a $150,000 fund from federal grants and lease payments on city-owned railroad right-of-way. Spokane certainly can find a chunk of money in its budget to make a similar investment. Perhaps a larger contribution or some creative development agreement could fill in the Rookery Block hole, or create a beautiful apartment/condominium complex across the street from a soon-to-be-revitalized Riverfront Park.
It’s time. Spokane is waiting. Having residents downtown pays long-term dividends. Let’s reinvest in downtown.