A closer look at three important ways to improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan

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This is the site plan for the Jensen-Byrd District, as proposed by JB Development, a partnership between Wally Trace and McKinstry. A few changes would dramatically improve the development plan for the site, making it more inviting for the next fifty-plus years. (PHOTO: jensenbyrd.com)

When the Jensen-Byrd District plan was revealed in full for the first time last week, we rightfully noted the spectacular form and scale that the plan took. At 250,000 square feet, it’s the largest downtown Spokane development in nearly a generation. And by including space well-suited for high-tech and biotech companies, it could mark a turning point in Spokane’s overall economy.

But it’s important to note also that the site plan has some significant pain-points, challenges which we expect to be resolved before the developer is granted a building permit. It’s easy to forget that once a building is built, it’s likely to remain there for at the very minimum, fifty years (well, most of the time). That’s why we need to ensure that this development is held to a high standard: the University District is intended to drive Spokane’s economy in the 21st century and beyond. To create a place fit for the next fifty-plus years, we need to do better than the current plan. Here are some concrete steps to making that happen.

1. Create a better, more inviting, and more distinct north landing for the University District Pedestrian Bridge. In the current plan, a pedestrian crossing the bridge northbound will land facing the parking garage, where it’s unclear whether there will be a clear path forward to the Jensen-Byrd Building itself. At this landing, there should be some wayfinding information, as well as other active space, such as retail on the first floor of the parking garage. Imagine an inviting cafe or coffeehouse with outdoor seating and programmable space. There should also be an easy path through the parking garage to the Jensen-Byrd. (It appears that there may be an alleyway of some kind for this purpose; how could this alley be made more inviting for pedestrians? Overhead lights? Restaurant space a la Mizuna?)

2. Develop a phased master plan for the overall site, including development for the surface parking lots included in the current site plan. There’s zero justification for the surface parking lots to remain on the site plan, given the 450-space parking garage included in the first phase. This land would be better put to use in the interim as open space or public parkland; in the future, it should be developed to support the continued growth of the University District. As of now, however, we don’t know when or whether that will happen. This planning and building approval process should include specific planning for these sites.

3. Repave the section of Main Street in front of the Jensen-Byrd Building with brick, and close it to vehicles, to create a more inviting pedestrian landscape and a plaza of sorts for events and special occasions. Even if the street is not closed to vehicles, it would be more vibrant, more interesting, and more programmable if paved with brick. Imagine Friday food truck gardens or Saturday farmers’ markets on this site. Paved with brick, this could become a huge selling point to any potential tenant of the Jensen-Byrd District development.

Overall, these three changes could go a long way toward improving the Jensen-Byrd District plan. It’s unclear what degree of flexibility to public comment the developers will have, but it’s worth a shot. Fortunately, it’s likely that design review will be required for this project. We will share information on public comment when it becomes available.

In the meantime, your best bet to offer feedback for the project is to use the comment form on the development’s website. Be sure to select “other” for the contact category so it’s directed to the right people. Perhaps we can make a difference in improving this project.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Would these improvements help improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan to make it more future-proof and vibrant? Would you approve of a better connection from the Pedestrian Bridge, given the large amount of public funding going to that project? What about brick paving for Main Ave? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments below. We love to hear from you!

 

How to fix Spokane’s “brain drain”

Biology and bioengineering labs are a critical component to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) education. What if Spokane offered scholarships to local students interested in pursuing STEAM? (PHOTO: Noll & Tam)

Spokane has a “brain drain” problem. Currently, many of our brightest high school seniors choose colleges and universities located on the coast, in cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, or in the east, in areas like, New York, Massachusetts, and the Washington, D.C. area. (For example, this blogger attends Santa Clara University in the Silicon Valley.) That would be fine if those students moved back to Spokane upon graduation. But they don’t.

Typically, these students leave Spokane when they turn 18 and don’t come back, perhaps partially because in-routes to established companies, economic opportunity, and culture are seen as more plentiful in those larger, more established cities. There’s “more to do,” more “people like me,” and “more jobs.” (Or so people think.) The brain drain continues.

But what if we had a way to end it?

We talk a lot in this community about bonds and levies. These tax measures are designed to allow for infrastructure investment, parks and recreation improvements, road construction, and school renovations. A small levy, or even a large grant from a charitable organization, however, would be enough to make a big difference in our “brain drain” problem.

Let’s offer any high school senior in Spokane who wishes to pursue a career in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) a $5,000/year college scholarship. In return, the student would agree to move back to Spokane for a period of at least three years post-graduation (with postponement available for years of service and graduate school). Simple. Easy. These fields are constantly cited as the types of industries which our city must attract in order to remain competitive in the 21st century. So let’s do something about it. Let’s encourage students to go into STEAM fields. Let’s encourage students to move back to Spokane. Let’s grow our local economy by leaps and bounds.

The best part is that this type of measure need not be expensive. A levy the size of the roads levy planned for the November ballot, for example, would make a big difference. $10 million/year for higher education is a small figure compared to the possible economic benefit of increased STEAM engagement in the area. Even a large grant or series of grants could be huge for area students.

And with a requirement that student return to Spokane, there’s a good chance that we’d hook them in for good.

What do you think? Could college scholarships/grants for STEAM students help improve Spokane’s local economy and increase the number of young, urban professionals? Would you be willing to pay $20 more per year in property taxes to fund scholarships for high school seniors? Disregarding a funding mechanism, what do you think about requiring that students move back to Spokane? Share your thoughts below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. We love to hear from you.