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:
(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.

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Pre-Fab Deja Vu: Why can’t Walt Worthy learn from past mistakes?

Construction continues Walt Worthy's Convention Center Hotel. Pre-fabricated concrete panel installation has begun and is expected to progress quickly. (PHOTO: Trebor of Spokane on SkyscraperPage Forum)
Construction continues Walt Worthy’s Convention Center Hotel. Pre-fabricated concrete panel installation has begun and is expected to progress quickly. (PHOTO: Trebor of Spokane on SkyscraperPage Forum)

Look, we’re excited about Walt Worthy’s new Convention Center Hotel downtown set to open in 2015. We are. Really. But who was the genius that sold him on pre-fab construction? The guy (in)famously said after the Davenport Hotel Tower was completed to little fanfare that instead of choosing more attractive glass and steel, “investments were made on the inside of the building” (that’s a paraphrase). The same seems to be playing out across the street from the INB Performing Arts Center. Precast concrete paneling is being installed quickly and efficiently, and the familiar array of perfectly-aligned square windows is already beginning to take shape. Photos from Trebor of Spokane on the SkyscraperPage Forum provide us with a look at the construction (click the link for more photos of the construction progress).

Our question…is Walt obsessed with local pre-fab concrete company Central Pre-Mix Prestress? Actually, indications are…yes. Some of Walt Worthy’s largest projects have utilized the company. The Davenport Hotel Tower. The admittedly somewhat nicer-looking River View Corporate Center. The list goes on. All constructed by Prestress. With the major impact that the new tower will have on Spokane’s skyline, we have to wonder…at what point does the relative unattractiveness of downtown towers begin to harm economic potential? Would a statement building have been a better choice to attract conventions, visitors, and new businesses? Time will tell.

Until then, construction continues.

What do you think? Would a statement building featuring steel and glass have sent a better message? Is there a downside to these Worthian architectural choices? Why do you think he still hasn’t learned his lesson from the public outcry over the Davenport Tower? Share your thoughts in our comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in person. We love to hear from you.