1400 Tower promises to (finally!) add 52 units to West Riverside

 

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The seventeen-story, 52-unit 1400 Tower will rise on West Riverside between Browne’s Addition and Downtown Spokane. This conceptual rendering shows the view from Riverside. (PHOTO: Nystrom + Olson Architecture)

Ten years after his initial proposal was scuttled by a tumbling real estate market and opposition from Peaceful Valley neighbors, Spokane developer Mick McDonnell has begun work again on his major, 17-story condominium project at 1404 W. Riverside in downtown Spokane. The $20 million project will add 52 units to this quickly-revitalizing area of the West End. Other area projects include the West End Lofts, a brewery incubator and ceviche bar, and a number of other proposals.

The 1400 Tower will include 275,000 square feet of total space, and Mick McDowell hopes to start constrution in the autumn of this year. In addition, the project in its current form includes three stories of underground parking, totaling 76 spaces, accessed from the Peaceful Valley. This works out to around 1.5 parking spaces per unit. It’s worth asking whether that’s more parking than is necessary for an urban-designed, downtown condominium complex with numerous other parking garages within a block or two. Is it worth the potential traffic inconvenience to Peaceful Valley residents when there are other secure parking garages nearby? Perhaps McDowell could make a deal with one of the nearby garages for discounted overnight parking. This would reduce the impact to other neighborhoods and encourage more people to use transit, walk, and bike to work. (And when the complex is downtown, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.)

Either way, we’re excited for the prospects of the 1400 Tower, and we look forward to its completion. As the West End turns a corner and Spokane’s housing market heats up, we can only hope for increased activity there and in the rest of the city.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Are you excited for the 1400 Tower to get started? What do you think could improve the proposal? — retail? a restaurant? units for rent or lease? a different front entry? a larger public area? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in person. We love to hear from you!

Spokane is a city of districts. Here’s how to realize their potential.

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The Garland District, in Spokane’s North Hill neighborhood, is one of its oldest urban districts, and one of its most beloved. But what could be done to highlight the many and varied urban districts which make up our city? (PHOTO: Garland District)
Spokane is a city of districts.

Garland. South Perry. Browne’s Addition. North Monroe. University District. North Bank. Hillyard. East Sprague. Lincoln Heights. Southgate. Indian Trail. Northwest. West Central. Peaceful Valley. Rockwood. Logan.

In more ways than one, Spokane is more of a city of districts than we realize. Perhaps it’s a result of the way they developed. Some of the neighborhood districts began as separate cities, like Hillyard. Perhaps it’s a result of their present situation. Some of the “urban” districts don’t seem “urban” at all. Many of them are seas of surface parking, wider-than-necessary streets, and near-to-nonexistent pedestrian facilities. Occasionally there are crime issues, or little in the way of retail, or no transit service. Almost always, these urban districts are purely commercial; they don’t contain any residential units. And there’s rarely a “there” there. The urban districts don’t seem to be anything special because they aren’t yet seen as places in their own right.

But we can change that. Here’s how.

1. Mix up the uses. As noted above, most of Spokane’s urban districts are, in essence, commercial districts. There’s little in the way of housing, aside from the single-family residential areas which often surround them. For these districts to thrive, they need more people, and that means apartments, condos, and townhomes. There’s certainly enough space. We know that Spokane will see demand for 3,000 more units over the next three years. Let’s make sure that as many of those units are in urban districts as possible.

2. Get rid of parking minimums. Parking minimums essentially require a certain amount of parking per square foot. They’re in place in most urban districts, but they should be abolished. These regulations result in more parking than is necessary, and parking takes up valuable space that otherwise could be used for more housing, retail, or other development. And perhaps most importantly, they harm urban vitality and walkability, and they make the districts driving destinations, rather than walking destinations, which relates to the next point.

3. Feet first. Develop these urban centers with a focus on walkability first. These areas should primarily serve not the entire Spokane community, but the local neighborhoods. That means that there should be a strong sidewalk network, curb bulb-outs, and street trees. Traffic calming, combined with pedestrian improvements, will improve the sense of place and make the district more desirable.

4. Build a sense of place. Beyond those strategies can be above, this can be achieved with relatively simple steps involving minimal investment. Things like trash cans, a fresh coat of paint, better crosswalks, benches, bike racks, and lower speed limits can go a long way. Beyond that, wayfinding and entry signage can better distinguish the area from its surroundings. For more money, a district could opt for streetscape enhancements, public squares (Garland has amazing potential for this!), or perhaps signature features, like neon lighting.

5. Let businesses band together. East Sprague recently created a Business Improvement District (BID) as part of the City of Spokane’s Targeted Investment Pilot program. The BID will essentially organize and tax local businessowners to provide services, like street tree maintenance, graffiti removal, wayfinding, and other maintenance improvements. It will also advertise and market the district, both to developers and to Spokane residents. Other districts, like Garland and North Monroe, should have the opportunity to create their own business improvment districts. That way, businesses will be able to take on more of their own revitalization. And even if these organizations aren’t BIDs, simple associations could unify the districts’ messages and marketing.

6. Create sub-area plans for each district. The Logan District on the Hamilton Corridor recently completed planning for the Hamilton Form-Based Code, which essentially is a subarea plan for the area around Mission and Hamilton. We need to develop subarea plans for each of the urban districts, highlighting plans for the next twenty-five years in Garland, the North Bank, West Broadway, and Hillyard. Some areas already have these plans in place. Others don’t. In all cases, however, there hasn’t been much in the way of implementation. Let’s fix that.

7. Work with developers. It’s time for Neighborhood Services to develop a clear, coherent strategy for partnering and finding or creating incentives for developers. Ideally, this would focus on multifamily apartment units with streetfront retail. Incentives need not be large. Even “fast-tracking” the planning process can be an incentive. But the fact is that we need to work with developers to revitalize our urban districts. Neighborhood Services, because it has deep experience in each neighborhood, would be well-placed to act as this bridge between residents and investors.

8. Grow small business. South Perry wouldn’t be South Perry without The Shop, or South Perry Pizza, or Perry Street Brewing. Garland wouldn’t be Garland without the Milk Bottle. North Monroe wouldn’t be North Monroe without the Boulevard Mercantile. And West Central wouldn’t be West Central without Batch Bakeshop. Many of these businesses were catalysts in their respective neighborhoods’ revitalizations. In order for the districts to thrive, we need to make things easy for small, local business. Can you imagine if we offered microloans or other incentives? Can you imagine if we eased businesses in urban districts through permitting processes, making opening a business faster and less expensive? We need to find a way to concentrate local business in these centers. This could be how.

9. Triage potential infill sites. Develop a comprehensive database of potential infill sites within urban districts. Include all of the relevant information: current ownership, zoning, associated incentives, property value, property tax rates, infrastructure maps, median incomes, (in some cases) daily traffic, and area vacancy rates. Make the database public. But hire a staffer or two at the City of Spokane to maintain the database and work with developers to negotiate and develop properties. You know, economic development work. Ideally, this work would come with a budget and the ability to create new incentives. Limit the work at first to the urban districts. Call it a pilot project. In the future, it could be expanded city-wide.

Revitalizing and recapturing every urban district in Spokane will take an extreme level of vision, foresight, and cooperation on the part of all stakeholders. It will also take some risk-taking on the part of private individuals and developers. But if it pays off, even in just a few areas, the result will be a more vibrant, more exciting Spokane for everyone.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Is Spokane a city of districts? Do you think that any of these strategies could help recapture and reinvent our urban districts into vibrant, exciting urban places for all? Would you live in an urban district? Which one’s your favorite? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the comments below. We love to hear from you.

KREM incites NIMBYs over Browne’s Addition project; everyone else yawns

Yes, the loss of two arguably-historic homes is sad, but let's not turn to hyperbole. The replacement will also add something to the historic Browne's Addition neighborhood. (PHOTO: Fusion Architecture)
Yes, the loss of two arguably-historic homes is sad, but let’s not turn to hyperbole. The replacement will also add something to the historic Browne’s Addition neighborhood. (PHOTO: Fusion Architecture)

Okay, so the loss of two arguably-historic homes is indeed tragic, and we certainly should try to preserve historic buildings wherever possible. But we can’t help but feel that the hyperbole surrounding this project on KREM and other pages would be better directed at helping building owners discover the benefits of historic registration, or some similar pursuit. Because let’s face it: the homes’ replacement will certainly add something to the Browne’s Addition neighborhood as well. And let’s not forget that similarly-aged homes are frequently torn down elsewhere in North America due to their relatively young age.

Specifically, the “Browne’s Addition Apartments” (we’re really getting creative project names here) will add 21 new apartment units at 2335 W 3rd Ave in Spokane. The building will feature underground parking and, evidently, balconies for added space outdoors. We certainly won’t say that the architecture is particularly distinctive or noteworthy, but it is something new for the neighborhood, and a certain level of variety in housing options can only be a good thing. Let’s just hope that the next project is more of an extensive remodel than a total tear-down.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Should this developer have tried harder to save the units that once stood on this site? Are you excited to see a new project in the Browne’s Addition neighborhood? Share your thoughts below, on Twitter, on Facebook, or in person. We love to hear from you.

#SpokaneStoke: A Weekend of epic proportions

The Bartlett’s beautiful stage will host a number of poets and live music acts over the course of the weekend as a venue for the Volume Music Festival. (PHOTO: The Bartlett)

This weekend is jam-packed. There’s a lot going on in the area, and we wanted to fill you in so that you can take full advantage of all of the opportunities presented to us here in the inland Northwest. Here’s a roundup of the most popular events going on around the area this weekend.

  • Volume Music Festival. The Inlander’s music festival grows again this year, with eight venues and 80 bands. More shows than ever will be all-ages, and with acts like Summer in Siberia, Terrible Buttons, and Water Monster, it’s sure to be an exciting event. Wristbands are just $17, and they get you into every show tonight and tomorrow. Even cooler, for the first time ever, there’ll be a discussion panel on the State of the Spokane Music Scene. For more information, and to plan your schedule, check out volume.inlander.com.
  • ArtFest. Sponsored by the Inland Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, ArtFest is Spokane’s major juried art festival. Brilliant paintings, stunning sculptures, and excellent photography will all be showcased, among other work. The event runs from 12p-10p today, 10a-10p tomorrow, and 10a-5p Sunday in Browne’s Addition. It’s free (including parking at the MAC garage, if that’s an issue for you, although we encourage you to utilize transit if possible), and there will be great music. For more information, click here.
  • SkyFest. After several years, SkyFest returns to Fairchild Air Force Base after a budget cut- and sequester-induced hiatus. The air show and vendor fair will be open Saturday and Sunday from 9a-6p, and will include all of the usual events. More information available here.
  • Spo-Can. The Elk’s second-annual craft canned beer festival will take place Saturday and Sunday in Browne’s Addition. Over 50 canned beers will be showcased, and four bands will be performing. More information by clicking here.

In addition to the above, Spokane Comicon is this weekend, in addition to a nature festival at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, farmers’ markets, and live music at the Rocket Market. Be sure to get out in the community check these events, and share your Spokane adventures using the hashtag #SpokaneStoke and #spokanerising. We love to connect with you.

Could “the market” by Safeway be one solution to our downtown grocery problem?

"the market" by Safeway occupies this urban corner in downtown San Jose. Perhaps it could be a solution for downtown Spokane?
“the market” by Safeway occupies this urban corner in downtown San Jose. It’s a fully-stocked store. Perhaps it could be a solution for downtown Spokane?

Supermarkets are important. Though in recent years, people have been moving away from traditional grocery stores and toward specialty retailers like Trader Joe’s and discount clubs like Costco, the problem of food remains a critical issue. In a vibrant urban downtown, it’s essential that a grocery store serve the population by providing nutritious, inexpensive products. It’s one of the necessities that will make-or-break a downtown from a livability and residential perspective. No grocery store? Good luck convincing families and young people to locate there.

Currently, Spokane has no real downtown grocery store. Yes, Main Market operates on the east end of Main, but it’s focused primarily on organic and specialty items (it’s more of a Huckleberry’s than a Rosauer’s). And yes, Grocery Outlet remains open near Browne’s Addition, but that’s not within walking distance of most downtown residents. No, what Spokane needs is a mainline or more traditional grocer. Something like Safeway. It could be one good fit. The chain in 2008 opened a store in downtown San Jose called “the market,” which offered everything found in a typical suburban store, but in a smaller format better-suited to downtown streetfront locations. It’s done quite well, and helped to usher in a sort of renaissance of downtown housing in that city. Perhaps Spokane could move in that direction? Or maybe Rosauer’s, as a local company, could offer a home-grown solution?

First, however, a developer needs to propose a building with enough first-floor retail space. That’s the most realistic scenario that would result in a downtown grocery store. What incentives are being offered for new construction downtown? Is there an incentive for opening a new grocery store there? What can be done to reduce red-tape for developers without compromising reasonable design standards? These are the questions that city leaders and citizens should be asking as we attempt to build a housing base downtown.

What do you think? Does downtown Spokane need a more traditional grocery store? Share your thoughts below in our comments section, on Twitter, on Facebook, or in person. We love to hear from you.