It’s time to bring a German-style Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) to Spokane

weihnachtsmarkt-annaberg
In much of northern Europe, the Weihnachtsmarkt (German for “Christmas Market”) has become not just a tradition, but a cultural institution. Imagine a Christmas Market in Spokane alongside Winter Glow and a revitalized, newly urbanized ice skating rink. (PHOTO: Grenzenloses Erzgebirge)

The launch of the Facebook page of the Spokane Chinese Lantern Festival got me thinking about the different types of cultural events that would fit Spokane in the future. Not long ago, it was difficult to imagine these types of festivals taking place in our city. But with the rise in popularity of Craft Beer Week, Inlander Restaurant Week, Terrain and Bazaar, the Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular, and now the Chinese Lantern Festival, it’s not hard to see bright possibilities for the future. Personally, I think Spokane needs to next develop its winter offerings to include a German-style Christmas Market.

In Germany, even small villages host Weihnachtsmarkten. Vendors sell hand-crafted goods, like ornaments, gifts, and toys. Typically, there’s fresh local food available, like wursts, kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), and other delicacies. Oh, and the glühwein (mulled wine) flows generously. Imagine how a small- to medium-sized Christmas Market could work in Spokane. I could see it taking place near the Rotary Fountain in Riverfront Park, to complement the soon-to-move ice skating rink in the Gondola Meadow and Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular, the large winter lights show. While open container laws would likely put a damper on any plans to allow patrons to roam freely with mulled wine, perhaps a wine garden (weingarten?) could be established. Or maybe a waiver of the open container law could be granted for this specific event, as has occurred in other cities.

Either way, a Christmas Market would be a really cool way for downtown Spokane to continue to distinguish itself during the holiday season. There’s even the possibility of adding a Spokane-esque twist, like curated booths a la Bazaar, or maybe a way to include winter-releases from local craft breweries. With eight months to go, perhaps something could even happen this year. Let’s make it happen.

What are your thoughts? What cultural festivals would you like to see take place in Spokane? Do you think a Christmas Market would be a good addition to downtown Spokane during the holiday season? What other new attractions would you like to see this Christmas?

Friday Tidbit: World’s Smallest City with Rapid Transit



Lausanne, Switzerland is the smallest city in the world with a true rapid transit system. (PHOTO: @robertbeardwell on DeviantArt)


Lausanne, Switzerland, coupled with its environs, has a population of around 300,000. The city itself sits at 125,000. The Spokane metro area has a population of around 535,000. And about 210,000 reside in the city itself. 

Lausanne in 2008 became the world’s smallest city with a full-fledged rapid transit system. It has two lines, 28 stations, and provides 41 million annual rides. In 2018, construction will conclude on the third line on the system. 

Lausanne and Spokane are two cities separated by language, culture, urban form, and an ocean. But is there not something to be learned from our ambitious Swiss friend? No matter the doubts, we are not too small for great, world-class transit. Our revolution may not come in the form of a true metro, but it’s encouraging to see that at the very least, it’s possible. (Subway under the river, anyone?)

Idea #23: Terrain meets TED

There’s something about Terrain that draws people in…is it the curation? The underground vibe? What is it? And how can we transfer that success to a major innovation conference for Spokane? (PHOTO: Terrain Spokane)

Terrain is cool. If nothing else, this year’s event proved that. Terrain 7 received more submissions than ever before, and the resulting curated one-night-only event drew in a record number of visitors. Better yet, the burgeoning movement has launched a campaign for a permanent venue at its new home in the Washington Cracker Company Building on Pacific.

TED is cool. The innovation and leadership conference has grown from humble beginnings into a worldwide phenomenon drawing thousands of changemakers every meeting and hundreds of millions of YouTube views.

Which brings forth an interesting question: what would happen if Spokane brought together the hyper-cool creative atmosphere of Terrain and the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of TED? Imagine a one-day-only conference focusing on innovation, creativity, and change. Imagine Spokane drawing together leaders in technology, the physical sciences, the social sciences, the arts, and others in a common, one-night festival of what’s next, what’s new, and what’s inspiring. We already have a TEDx event, but it’s small, limited in scope, and ineffective at building Spokane’s innovation culture.

This conference needs to be big.

Like, Convention Center or INB Performing Arts Center big. We need to inspire Spokane’s youngest kids to get interested in STEAM-based careers. We need to grow our startup infrastructure into something that can support a vibrant technology sector. We need to continue to develop strong events that build participation in local arts and culture. A TED-style event with the spirit, drive, and curation of Terrain could make that happen.

What do you think? Would you like to see a TED-style event in Spokane? What do you think of adding Terrain’s signature style and curation? Do you think that such a move could help to inspire the next generation of local youth to explore STEAM careers? What about growing our startup or innovation culture? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

What’s the deal with downtown and parking?

Before Walt Worthy’s “Grand Hotel Spokane” broke ground, the Convention Center/INB Performing Arts Center complex had a huge parking crater just across the street. And yet, people still complain that parking is too difficult downtown. Why? (PHOTO: Streetsblog)

If you listen to some people, then downtown Spokane’s mostly paid parking causes all sorts of problems for downtown. The theory goes that a large number of people simply refuse to shop or work or locate businesses downtown because they don’t want to worry about finding a space and paying for parking. While we’ve already shown that downtown already has too much parking, the cost issue may or may not be a fair concern. Most other downtown areas nearby (i.e. Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Missoula, etc.) don’t charge for on-street parking, and often even off-street parking is free (i.e. Coeur d’Alene’s McEuen Park, which offers two hours of free parking). But is it a fair criticism? You’re never too far from a metered space in downtown Spokane, and if you park near Kendall Yards, you can get free parking and a beautiful five-minute walk. If you’re looking at off-street parking, our rates are comparatively a steal.

In Seattle, or Portland, or San Francisco, or San Jose, or Los Angeles, you’d be paying at least $15 for a two- or three-hour shopping trip. Here, $5-8 probably is the most you would pay. So why do people here freak out over the very thought of paying a small amount of money to park? Or at the thought of finding a place to park, when we have a great overabundance of parking as it is?

We think that three potential solutions could get more and more people downtown. Any of these three, or a combination, could make a big difference in combatting the negative perception that many Spokanites hold about shopping or working downtown.

1. Create a downtown “parking authority.” Under this scenario, all surface parking and street parking in downtown Spokane would fall under one management structure. The parking authority would be responsible for price setting, enforcement, and the creation of a common marketing scheme. No longer would you worry about whether you are in a City of Spokane, River Park Square, Diamond Parking, Convention Center, or Davenport spot. You’re just in a Spokane spot. Less worries. More convenience.

2. Through strong planning and capital investment, encourage more people to use transit to come downtown. This is a touchy subject as it is, but the fact remains that if you don’t use a car, you don’t even have to worry about parking. Let’s make transit even more convenient than driving. Let’s build out a streetcar, a trolleybus, a light rail. Let’s make bus service more efficient, more predictable, more frequent. Let’s build “stations,” with bulb-outs, highly-designed shelters, and ticket vending machines for off-vehicle ticketing. Currently, “choice” riders avoid STA because it lacks a critical experiential element. Make it more of an “experience,” and perhaps more users will ride downtown.

3. Make it free. Yup. I went there. If both other options were employed to reduce the number of parking spaces demanded, perhaps we could get rid of the meters entirely. It’s not like they provide a massive revenue stream for the City. Those funds could easily be replaced with small adjustments in other areas of the budget. And the vitality effect could be huge as individuals make more excuses to shop downtown. Besides, the positive publicity associated with free parking could be reason alone. Let’s go for it.

What do you think? With a historic parking surplus and significantly lower parking costs than other areas of the country, why are people so paranoid about what seems to amount to a relatively minor issue? Does parking stop you from shopping or working downtown? Do you think free parking or an investment in transit could make a difference? What of the parking authority idea? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments below, or in person. We love to hear from you.

City Council working on changes to Centers and Corridors guidelines

In the South Perry District, Wollnick’s and Perry Street Brewing offer an upscale, but properly-scaled experience for the neighborhood. South Perry is zoned CC1 under Spokane’s innovative “Centers and Corridors” guidelines. (PHOTO: Amy Graff)

Introduction

There’s a great book written by Jeffrey L. Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky called Implementation. It’s a dense read, used mostly by upper-division undergraduate and graduate students in political science and public policy, but more than any other text, it does an excellent job of explaining how policy so often becomes divorced from its implementation. In it, Pressman and Wildavsky argue that such a separation can cause policy failure.

Spokane’s dealing with such a problem right now. Enter the official City of Spokane document entitled Initial Design Standards and Guidelines for Centers and Corridors.

Continue reading “City Council working on changes to Centers and Corridors guidelines”

The most important downtown Spokane business

Currently, Rite-Aid is the most important business in downtown Spokane. At least, if we want to continue to grow our residential base. (PHOTO: ky24941 on Flickr)

Nope. You’re not blind. The most important business in downtown Spokane is Rite Aid. Much talk is given to Nordstrom and Macy’s and Apple, but if our goal is to increase the amount of people living downtown, then Rite Aid remains critically significant to the area’s long-term success. Why? No other store downtown offers such basic needs. Where else, for example, could you purchase a toothbrush at 9pm when you realize that you need a new one? (Answer: nowhere.) When deciding whether to live downtown, people don’t worry about shopping. Our downtown shopping scene is already excellent. They worry about where they are going to find basic needs: food, medication, supplies.

Indeed, in order to drive long-term success in attracting young professionals to live downtown, city leaders and businesspeople should be focused on bringing more basic retail to the area. Attracting a grocery store should be the number one priority. (In contrast to Mark Richard’s proposal to close the Spokane Public Library branch and insert large-format retail.) Local favorite Rosauer’s could explore an urban concept store, or Albertson’s could build a local version of “the market by Safeway” (Albertson’s will soon complete its Safeway purchase). But one thing’s for sure: basic needs trump outside desires in the new downtown.

What do you think? Is Rite Aid the most important business in downtown Spokane? Do you shop there? Live downtown? What would be your most important store? Where would you like to see a grocery store downtown? And which retailer would you like to see operate it? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. We love to hear from you.

Idea #20: Underground Tours

The basement of the Hutton Building on downtown Spokane's East End features an old trunk company's signage and creepy-looking hallways. (PHOTO: Spokane Teachers' Credit Union)
The basement of the Hutton Building on downtown Spokane’s East End features an old trunk company’s signage and creepy-looking hallways. (PHOTO: Spokane Teachers’ Credit Union)

As with many cities, Downtown Spokane has a rich, colorful history. From the Great Spokane Fire to West Trent, from speakeasies to single-room occupancy hotels (SRO hotels). It’s a storied past, and one that comes with a lot of baggage. For the longest time, that baggage simply went unnoticed, and passageways and basements were lost and forgotten.

But with the recent building remodels which have been going on downtown, these places have in some cases been rediscovered. STCU, for example, recently posted photos of the basement of the Hutton Building, where it has been completing a major renovation.

And indeed, it does make us wonder: does Spokane have enough history in the basement tunnels and passageways and hallways to create a tour? Seattle’s Underground Tour is wildly popular, and to be clear, our city doesn’t have the same amount of interesting sites, but it would be an interesting pitch. What if Spokane had an underground tour?

Any basements that you would particularly like to see? Any secret tunnels or passageways? Would you go on the tour? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter. We love to hear from you!

Idea #19: A real startup fund

Spokane Startup Weekend, which takes place in the early spring at McKinstry's Innovation Center, offers a great opportunity for innovators to connect, collaborate, and network. Unfortunately, we still suffer from a lack of venture funding and mentoring. (PHOTO: Startup Weekend Spokane)
Spokane Startup Weekend, which takes place in the early spring at McKinstry’s Innovation Center, offers a great opportunity for innovators to connect, collaborate, and network. Unfortunately, we still suffer from a lack of venture funding and mentoring. (PHOTO: Startup Weekend Spokane)

In Silicon Valley, ten percent of startups hit it big. In Spokane, if we could hit half of that number, we would be doing quite well. Area startups have a good number of resources, with LaunchPad NW, McKinstry’s Spokane Innovation Center, and Startup Weekend Spokane, but still, we’re not exactly the hotbed for startups that we could be with additional capital and focus. A true startup fund, with a focus on mentorship, could be a real boon to our region’s innovation economy.

Whether it’s a single angel investor or a group of local well-off citizens, we need some people to start venture funding startups. We need additional low-cost incubator space for startups to grow. We need the infrastructure to support the next generation of tech startups, from fiber-optic internet service to a late-night coffeeshop within walking distance. With a focused effort, Spokane could become a haven for startups. It just needs to coordinate disparate groups in different areas working around different goals. It needs to coalesce around a specific, clear, and certain plan aimed at growing innovation locally and globally.

What do you think? Could startups be a path forward for Spokane? Would a startup fund, and greater capital for startups, as well as a focused effort to attract them, help to grow Spokane’s innovation economy? Shout out in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter. We love to hear from you.

Urban village to rise on Spokane’s South Hill?

Will the next Kendall Yards be located near Southeast Boulevard and 29th on Spokane's South Hill? The developers of Quail Run seem to hope so. Honestly, doesn't this look like Central Food at the Nest in Kendall Yards? (PHOTO: Quail Run Spokane)
Will the next Kendall Yards be located near Southeast Boulevard and 29th on Spokane’s South Hill? The developers of Quail Run seem to hope so. Honestly, doesn’t this restaurant look like a new Flying Goat or Central Food? (PHOTO: Quail Run Spokane)

Matthew Byrd of Cornerstone Property Advisors is marketing an urban village at Quail Run on Spokane’s South Hill. Early site clearing has gotten underway on the property, located near the intersection of 29th Avenue and Southeast Boulevard, and vertical construction could be in progress within a few weeks.

But as with all Spokane projects, it seems, this one has positive and negative aspects. Luckily, under all three scenarios, the majority of the new construction would be fronting a new “main street.” A water feature is envisioned in two of the three ideas. But one proposal in particular features a large anchor store and more extensive parking. And no specifics are given on whether any of the projects would be mixed-use, with residential features. For full project proposals, see the Quail Run website here.

Hopefully the developers will construct a mixed-use urban village fitting of the next great American city. A project that will enhance quality of life and reap positive benefits not just for buyers of the development, but for neighbors as well. Residential in particular should be a critical component of any successful project. Time will tell, as construction is set to get underway soon.

Spokane’s sharing economy grows with addition of Lyft and Uber

Popular in urban cities and now expanding nationwide, Lyft is a ride-sharing service whose drivers’ pink mustaches indicate that they are a member of the service. (PHOTO: inside.com)

Ridesharing services Lyft and Uber are coming to Spokane (and Coeur d’Alene). Lyft launched this week and Uber launched a Twitter account in late April announcing its impending arrival. With sure-to-be-distorted or -misreported media coverage incoming, we might as well offer some clarity about what the two offer.

Lyft is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week ridesharing service whereby drivers apply to become drivers, and after background checks and driving history reports, are allowed to drive people under the Lyft brand and using the Lyft app. Once the destination is reached, passengers pay a “donation” using their debit or credit cards on the app, and Lyft takes a cut. Currently, rates for Spokane are $1.70 per mile, $0.40 per minute, $2.00 for pickup, and $1.00 for a “Trust and Safety” fee. There’s a $5.00 minimum, but as you can see with the rate structure, it can be somewhat difficult to calculate what you might pay to get to your destination without the app. Note that we’ll be one of the first fifty cities in the United States with Lyft.

Uber is a similar 24-hour, 7-day-a-week service utilizing its traditional taxi, SUV, town car, and “UberX” offerings. While UberX is similar to Lyft, it is distinguished by its controversial “surge” pricing strategy. “Surge” pricing essentially means that Uber jacks up prices by astronomical amounts during periods of high demand. Think Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Or downtown Seattle after a Seahawks game. In Spokane, I could imagine Bloomsday and Hoopfest falling under “surge” pricing. First Night. First Fridays, perhaps? It should be interesting to see how Uber implements this model in Spokane, especially given allegations that the company takes drivers off the road during these “high demand” times.

Notably, the two services will be launching at similar times, but given Spokane’s taxi-averse culture, it should be interesting to see how residents respond to the services. Local taxi companies are frustrated that licensing law doesn’t account for these new and innovative services, but it should be noted that that’s what these are: innovative new services. It’s refreshing to see startups like Lyft ($333 million in VC funding) and Uber coming to Spokane as a part of their early nationwide rollout.