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”

Latest rendering of Worthy’s Convention Center Hotel eschews brick entirely, looks somewhat more modern

White and Black will be clothing the downtown Spokane skyline in the near future. (PHOTO: Visit Spokane)
White and Black will be clothing the downtown Spokane skyline in the near future. (PHOTO: Visit Spokane)

Here’s the latest rendering of the Convention Center Hotel currently under construction in downtown Spokane. While the basic structure of the building has not changed much since its introduction, the materials to be used certainly have. When the project was announced, it was to be built of brick with hardly a street-level enhancement. Now, the hotel will feature white and black paneling not unlike that currently covering the Spokane Convention Center/INB Performing Arts Center itself, and the street level will feature a more lively lobby and retail/restaurant spaces.

Also of note is the parking garage on the side of the block facing Main. Note the clean, bold lines of the black and white paneling and the addition of street-level enhancements. One of the fears that came with this project was that that side of the block would become dead space due to the parking garage. Now it appears that the ground level will be used for meeting or small convention space.

What do you think? Has Walt Worthy and the Davenport Hotel Collection done enough to ensure that this latest entry into Spokane’s skyline aesthetically and actively fits with the rest of downtown? Are the paneling changes enough to ensure that the building doesn’t look like the Davenport Tower? And what about those Soviet-esque windows? Share your thoughts in the comments.