An obsession with parking is destroying downtown Spokane

The Parkade was the original downtown parking garage. Built to help drive redevelopment during and after Expo 74, the Parkade features a bizarre architectural style and garish, unsightly skywalks, but mercifully, a much better pedestrian environment than the skywalks of today. (And even at the Parkade, it’s not great!) In order for Spokane to succeed, this needs to change. Fast. (PHOTO: roadarch.com)
(Because I know this is going to be a controversial post, let’s just get this out of the way. No, I am not anti-parking. I am, however, opposed to parking which takes no account of the real or perceived impacts of its existence. Parking which holds no regard for public space deserves to be ridiculed.)

Built in 1967 for $3.5 million ($25 million in 2015 dollars), the Parkade was a transformational building for Spokane. With space for nearly 4,000 vehicles, it met the needs of the city during Expo 74, and continued to drive development in the downtown core well into the 1980s. It even included many at-that-time “modern” features, like the skywalks, the entrances, and the sloping floors which have become commonplace in modern parking design. While changes in American automobile buying habits and modifications to the interior of the structure mean that it can now play host to “only” 1,000 cars, the Parkade remains an important anchor to the downtown community.

Importantly, however, the Parkade includes certain features which recently-built parking structures in Spokane conspicuously lack. Amenities like street-front retail (including downtown’s most important retail store, Rite-Aid). A unique (albeit polarizing) architectural style. Wide sidewalks, which in this case are covered, due to the unfortunate skywalk system. There’s even a public plaza on the south side of the structure (which has admittedly seen better days and could use some activation). To be sure, the Parkade is perhaps Spokane’s best-designed parking garage. (That isn’t to say it couldn’t use some investment, but it’s still holding up quite well for a fifty-year-old structure.)

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the parking garages and surface parking lots which have been constructed or proposed since the Parkade’s heyday. Instead, we have been given a patchwork of uninviting, drab, and utilitarian pedestrian environments which do nothing to activate public space and sidewalks. In some areas, such as the area near the railroad viaduct, this has resulted in crime and vandalism. In other areas, such as two parcels on the south side of Spokane Falls Boulevard across from Riverfront Park, surface parking has been allowed to fester where catalytic development would otherwise be possible and incredibly impactful. In still other areas, such as West Main at the Davenport Grand, parking garages have paid no attention to the impact that they have on the pedestrian and even the vehicular environment. The following is a list of sites which have seen (or in one particularly distressing case, will see) decreased potential for urban activation and excitement and a depressing pedestrian environment due to improper parking design. And then we’ll look at a solution.

Continue reading “An obsession with parking is destroying downtown Spokane”

Idea #17: Stronger ties to Seattle

The Bank of America Financial Center, formerly known as the Seafirst Financial Center, represents a bygone era of strong Spokane ties to Seattle in name as well as in action. (PHOTO: Jesse Tinsley/Spokesman-Review)

In 1980, the Spokane skyline welcomed its first newcomer in many, many years. The sleek, shiny Seafirst Financial Center was a modern new look for downtown, perhaps the most architecturally contemporary building currently in operation. But the building also represented something else entirely for Spokane: the strong ties that the city had built over many years with its western, metropolitan neighbor. By recommitting to a major operation in Spokane, SeaFirst (which merged with Bank of America in 1998) showed a high level of confidence in the inland Northwest, even at a time when the area’s downtown was starting to show signs of weakness.

Today, the Bank of America Financial Center, as it is now known, operates in relative obscurity, a simple Class A office building; nothing more, nothing less. But more broadly, Spokane’s ties to Seattle, which have always been significant, have been downplayed, downgraded, and similarly obscured. No longer does a major downtown building illuminate an obvious tie to our larger, older brother. No longer is Spokane’s economy so tied to Seattle’s.

And believe it or not, I think that that’s a bad thing.

Seattle could be an incredible marketing point for Spokane. We certainly have incredible access. Business travelers can choose between one of twenty daily flights on Alaska/Horizon or Delta, which offer best-in-class mileage programs, or a pretty simple four-hour drive. We offer a much lower cost of doing business, a lower cost of living, and an amazing quality of life, with easy access to outdoor recreation on local lakes, mountains, and trails. We have four universities, best-in-class medical facilities and doctors, and real resources and opportunities for expansion in the biomedical and technology industries. We could be an excellent complement to Seattle.

We should be trying to attract Washington companies. We’ve already attracted McKinstry. Imagine Amazon or Microsoft opening a research and development facility here, away from the lights, distractions, and spotlight of metro Seattle. Imagine Stryker (medical devices) or Genzyme (rare disease therapies) opening engineering facilities, with the benefit of world-class doctors and hospitals right down the street. We should be using Seattle to our benefit.

And yet, instead, Greater Spokane Incorporated markets the city to “stable” companies with “innovative” and “promising” long-term “growth potential.” Companies like Vivint.

What do you think? Should Spokane adopt closer ties to Seattle? Would our economy be better off tied to a strong one like Seattle’s? Would there be a benefit in marketing the way our city complements Seattle? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in person. We love to hear from you.