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Archive for February 2014

Latest Spokane hotel plan has Vegas-type torches; anyone out there like them?

Things continue happening in and around the city downtown business core. Shown here is the newest architect's rendering of the Worthy Convention Center Hotel, which is steadily taking shape in downtown Spokane.

This is at least the third rendering, which keep evolving as the project gets farther along. It's not clear yet if this is the definitive final design for the huge downtown building, which will be done sometime in 2015.

The rendering shows something we didn't see in earlier drawings: six concrete pillars each with a flaming torch.

See the second image here, down below, for a close-up.

Our first reaction is: How did Avista convince the Worthys to commit to something so …. non-green?

It's also possible they're just for show. It's possible those will disappear by the time the final design has to be completed.

Matt Jensen, who does marketing for the Worthys and the Davenport Collection, said it's not a sure thing they'll be in the final design.

He emailed: “They're kind of place-holders for now as well.  Might end up being a type of light post instead.”

In case you want to sound off, the city's design review board has to make a final verdict on the total design. We're not sure when that is; we'll find out and alert residents to how they can comment to the board on what they like or don't.


Spokane Gymantics buys second Spokane Valley all-ages training center

Spokane Gymnastics has added a second all-ages training center at 2515 N. Locust Road in Spokane Valley. Called Spokane Gymnastics Argonne Village, the facility is 28,000 square feet and takes over the former Stroh’s Fitness at that address, near the intersection of Montgomery and Argonne.


Company owner Nadine Burgess will continue operating the original 11,000-square -foot gym at 5615 E. Broadway Ave., in Spokane Valley.


The expansion helps address significant growth for the business, Burgess said. “Our business has more than quadrupled in size — staff, enrollment and square footage — in the past six years,” she said. The centers now have six full-time and 28 part-time workers, Burgess said.


She plans to operate both facilities through 2015 when the operations will be consolidated into the Argonne center.

Is 2014 your year to sell real estate? Learn why or why not Thursday

Is this the year to buy or sell a house?  Is this the year to get your Realtor's license and make big bucks?

Here's one opportunity to figure out those big question:  the 2014 annual Real Estate Market Forum, starting at 7:45 a.m. Thursday morning. That's tomorrow.  Registration at the door is $65.

The event will be inside the Spokane Convention Center.

Speakers will cover the past year and look ahead and provide handouts to share with work colleagues.

It's actually fun, even though it's mostly about real estate trends and scenarios.

The keynote will come from Selma Hepp, with the California Assoc. of Realtors.

Sponsors include the usual suspects, including Cowles Co., Avista Corp., the Coeur d'Alene Association of Realtors, Greenstonre, Valbridge Property Advisors and STCU.






That and other questions will be answered by a consulting economist for the National Association of Realtors at the Real Estate Market Forum, Thursday, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at Spokane’s Ag Trade Center.



In his keynote speech, John Tuccillo, consulting economist for the National Association of Realtors, will discuss the economic future of the nation and Northwest.

Big Lots stores now official Hostess Thrift outlets

File this under “I'm already a bit overweight and I'll deal with it later.”

The big news from the Big Lots company is that its stores now are the official outlets for Hostess Thrift items.

Consumers will now be able to visit any Big Lot stores and find the Hostess lineup of treats. Usually at discounted prices.

The company went social on YouTube creating a Twinkie Time video –

Big Lots has three area stores on Newport Highway up north, on East Sprague in Spokane Valley and on Best Avenue in Coeur d'Alene.  For the locator click here.

Downtown Spokane Partnership brings in placemaking expert for annual meeting

There's lots of stuff going on downtown. The annual Downtown Spokane Partnership meeting is Wednesday, Feb. 26,. this week, and the topics will include how to keep up the past few years' positive momentum.

The event starts at 3 p.m. at ballrooms A & B of the Spokane Convention Center.  You'll need to register.

Guest speaker is Phil Myrick, who's described as a leader in Placemaking projects, a modern variation on the idea of urban upgrading.

Disclosure: one of the event's major sponsors is Cowles Co., which also owns and operates the Spokesman Review.

The release notes that Myrick has helped towns and cities around the world achieve their livability and economic objectives by helping
create the places that attract people and talent. His clients include the cities of San Antonio and Houston, Pittsburgh, New York, Charlotte, Austin, Philadelphia, Tempe, and St. Louis. Internationally, Phil has led public space plans in over 15 countries, as well as development plans for Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. 


What will happen when pot businesses still don’t have bank accounts?

Sunday the Spokesman Review jumps back into pot coverage, specifically how interested statewide and regional banks are in doing business with the I-502 industry that is being created after state voters legalized pot in Washington.

The story finds, a bit surprisingly, that all the large banks in Washington still don't like the idea that they set up accounts for licensed pot businesses. They said nothing has changed despite  recent announcement of federal guidelines for financial institutions to operate in that environment safely.

Also worth noting:  a West side legislator failed again in trying to convince the state to create a state bank expressly for the legal-pot trade. He said, “Unless we give the businesses a way to do banking here, the cash-only operation will be a dangerous way to go. It will be a magnet for organized crime,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill.

Check the Sunday SR for the full story.



Bitcoin is trending up, and trending down, depending on your source

Bitcoin is dead. Or not. No one seems to have a clue, except for the ranters who sometimes prowl who think they're way above-average in such matters.

The headlines related to Bitcoin this week leave most of us still uncertain, confused, unsure what to make of the digital currency that seems to have captured the hearts of free-thinkers and assorted libertarians, among others.

This week we saw a story about an entrepreneur who donated $10,000 worth of Bitcoin to the University of Puget Sound.

Also this week, the value of Bitcoins fell suddenly based on a variety of factors including recent issues disrupting one or two major digital currencies (including Mt. Gox).

A pennystock “expert” named Peter Leeds said Bitcoin appears ready to crash and burn. One thing caught our eye: he compared the new currency to “the Paris Hilton of the currency world.”

“Much like non-profitable gold mines shut down production if the value of gold decreases, large portions of the Bitcoin network will disappear when profits are hard to come by,” Leeds was quoted saying.

He went further and said the high cost of “mining” Bitcoins is tending toward a circumstance where miners will reduce their efforts, leading to no processing of transactions, “no security of the network or verification of Bitcoin ownership.”

Finally, despite the negative trends, a Las Vegas company announced it's setting up Seattle's first Bitcoin ATM. Don't know where, but the company says there will be several.


Book on Bezos and Amazon features Spokane’s Etailz and the ‘race to zero’

A Spokane e-commerce company, Green Cupboards, shows up on page 304 of the recent book, “The Everything Store,” by Brad Stone. The book is subtitled: “Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” and it describes pretty effectively how Bezos evolved the online site from a bookseller to a company that practically sells anything.

Like many other competitive online retailers, the Spokane company is willing to share revenue by selling items through Amazon's Marketplace system. When sales happen, Amazon takes a share.

The book was written before Green Cupboards switched its business name to Etailz. The private firm operates out of the McKinstry building near downtown.  Here's the section in the book:

Even sellers who thrive in Amazon's Marketplace tend to regard it warily.

Green Cupboards, a seller of environmentally responsible products, like eco-friendly laundry detergents and pet supplies, has built a 60-person company almost entirely via Amazon, despite the fact that founder Josh Neblett says that Marketplace enables “a race to zero.”

His company is constantly competing with other sellers and with Amazon's own retail organization for the lowest possible price and to capture the “buy box” — to be the default seller of a particular product on the site.

That furious price competition tends to drive prices down and eliminate profit margin. As a result Green Cupboards has had to get more Amazon-like to survive. Neblett says the company has gotten better at sourcing hot new products, locking up exclusives, and building a lean organization.

“I've always just considered it a game and we're figuring out how best to play it,” he says.




Kickstarter success helps iCPooch plan for March 12 launch at Pet Expo

One more iCPooch update. On Monday, Feb. 17, the Spokane dog-tech startup exceeded its Kickstarter target of $20,000. We posted on that yesterday.

Chris Martin, father of company inventor Brooke Martin — who's 14 — sent us an email explaining where that Kickstarter money will go:

“We'll use the funds to put the finishing touches on our custom software. We'll be officially launching iCPooch at Global Pet Expo in Orlando on March 12. This will put us in front of retailers and distributors from around the world.

And KeyTronic will be doing our injection molding, Servatron is manufacturing our custom micro-controller and product assembly will be done in Spokane Valley by us. We're excited to provide more jobs to our regional economy.”

Startup inventor Brooke Martin featured on Fox, pushes her over Kickstarter goal

Getting her face on Fox Business News on Monday morning helped push Chris and Brooke Martin to exceed their Kickstarter goal for their Spokane startup company, iCPooch.

The 14-year-old Brooke was featured last year in a Spokesman Review article about iCPooch, her technology device to interact with a dog and reward the dog with a treat.

Fox Business News featured her this morning on its show, and nicely enough, the press attention pushed ICPooch over the $20,000 target of the campaign.

The money will help the company start moving forward with design plans for the device, which could be sold in the $145 range.


Inland Northwest aerospace group hosts its annual open house tomorrow

Today is your last chance to sign up for tomorrow's (Feb. 18) Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium meeting, featuring Jenette Ramos.

The Aerospace in the Inland Northwest-INWAC Open House Breakfast runs from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Lincoln Center, 1316, N. Lincoln.

Ramos is the VP of Boeing Aerospace commercial airplane supply chain management.  She's scheduled to discuss the details of how regional companies are building business by working together and joining the regional alliance of aerospace manufacturing companies.

The INWAC Manufacturing Services Network is a regional network of aerospace-certified manufacturers working together to simplify procurement and streamline orders.

Tickets are $50, and seating is limited. Here's the link to register.

Valley AutoNation Toyota doubles showroom space, and more to come

Saturday's Spokesman Review featured a quick story on the visit by AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson to celebrate the Spokane Valley reopening of its newly remodeled AutoNation Toyota Scion Spokane Valley dealership.

For those who work for the company here, it was quite the deal. The photo above was shot the morning of Friday, Feb. 14, showing a brand new Toyota Tundra out front of the new showroom. This was right during Jackson's visit to the dealership.

Inside, you can make out some of the guests and associates gathered for an employee breakfast and presentation.

The automobile dealership, at 8600 East Sprague Ave., is one of 10 AutoNation locations in Spokane County.

Later that day we chatted by phone with Dustin Esco, the GM for AutoNation's Valley Toyota dealership. One question we had: How much pressure does Toyota put on companies to upgrade facilities?

His answer: “It's not actual pressure. But they do want their facilities (at franchises) to be state of the art and up to speed.”

Esco said the downtown Larry H. Miiller dealership group is already doing the same kind of remodel.

In 2009 Parker Toyota in Coeur d'Alene invested a large sum in a complete rebuild of its dealership.



Itron announces new stock repurchase plan, buying up to $50M in shares

On Wednesday, the same day Itron Inc. posted its 4Q and 2013 fiscal year results, the company also announced it plans to repurchase up to $50 million in common stock.

Like Apple earlier this month, the company knows it wants to protect shareholder value, and buybacks are one of the basic tools to accomplish that.

Itron's announcement was timed, appropriately, to a fairly dismal quarterly report. The company failed to hit analyst earnings targets.

Its plan is to make the purchases over the next 12 months, and will start on March 7 this year. That date marks the end of a current repurchase program.

Itron's formal release said the following:

“This new repurchase program reaffirms our commitment to returning value to shareholders,” said Philip Mezey, Itron president and chief executive officer. “We have repurchased over 2.6 million shares since the fourth quarter of 2011, representing nearly seven percent of the outstanding shares. The strength of our balance sheet provides us with the flexibility to continue repurchasing shares while investing in growth opportunities for the business.”


GSI sponsoring Thursday morning health care act overview for area employers

Greater Spokane Incorporated is hosting a health care symposium Thursday morning, starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Davenport Hotel. It's scheduled to end at 9:30 a.m.

The panel will present health and insurance professionals discussing the Affordable Care Act and what employers and individuals should know. Online registration is closed.  Registration will be available at the door.

For more details, check out the GSI link here.  Cost is $25 for GSI members, $30 otherwise.

The agenda online listed these presenters:

  • Compliance: what businesses need to know, do, how and when, and how's the rest of the country doing? With Heidi Alessi, Partner, K&L Gates/Seattle.
  • Washington's Health Benefit Exchange - updates for employers and how it aligns with the ACA. With Nelly Kinsella, Washington Health Benefit Exchange.
  • Dental care and the A.C.A - in or out and for whom?  With Sean Pickard, director of government affairs, Delta Dental of Washington.
  • The big picture from provider and insurance perspectives. With Kelly Stanford, Vice President, Spokane Development for Group Health.



Cyan releases modernized Myst, loaded with new visual and sonic improvements

A big day for fans of Mead-based Cyan Inc. It's the official release of realMyst: Masterpiece Edition. This version is an augmented, spiffed-up version of Myst, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary. It's also a replacement for the 2000 edition of realMyst, which took the original game into 3-D.

The official press release reads: ”Cyan, Inc. announces the availability of realMyst: Masterpiece Edition - a completely updated version of realMyst for MacOS and Windows. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition delivers the rich story and gameplay of the original Myst in a visually and aurally stunning, dynamic, realtime 3D experience updated for today's computers and graphics cards.

“Myst was originally released in 1993 to both critical and popular acclaim. Its storyline, environments, graphics, music, and interface created an award winning experience that made it the best-selling game of the last millennium. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition shakes that original adventure forward - updating the journey to a state-of-the-art experience. The realtime 3D environment allows for complete freedom of motion and viewing - with seamless movement from place to place. And the new, easy-to-use Classic Mode navigation option provides a simple point-and-click exploration that works just like the original Myst.

Company co-founder Rand Miller said, “To explore the islands and Ages of Myst in real time…it's an amazing feeling. We wanted to recreate the Myst experience of 20 years ago but with the sophistication that today's computer can deliver.”

The ease of the “classic” Myst interface was not an easy thing to implement. “We located and marked every still image location and angle from the original Myst in 3D space in realMyst.” said Jason Calvert, senior software engineer for the project. “The idea was to provide an uncompromising 3D experience with the point and click interface that made the original Myst accessible to anyone.”

The real time version also makes possible visual enhancements such as day and night cycles, rippling water, waving branches, falling rain, moving clouds, setting suns, and more. And since exploration can take place at night, realMyst: Masterpiece Edition offers a unique new addition - a flashlight. The audio also benefits from real time with sounds that emanate from specific locations and react realistically as the player explores.”

This edition is priced at $17.99 US. It is available immediately for MacOS and Windows on Steam and the Mac App Store. For current owners of the original version of realMyst on Steam, there is a 33 percent discount.

Here’s the CNBC story on the rise of the Caribbean phone call scam

Just to revisit the question and blog post from Monday, here's a link to a CNBC story on the same concern — the “one ring” scam that tries to get you to call back a suspicious cell phone number.

Our post yesterday noted the Washington state AG's office said consumers need to be on the alert for this scam, which involves trying to con consumers into dialing a number originating — so it says — somewhere in the Caribbean.

The CNBC report notes: “You'll be connected to an expensive international hotline—usually an “adult entertainment” service—that charges as much as $19.95 as soon as you connect. There may also be a sizable per-minute fee. Those costs typically show up on your phone bill as “premium services.”

We have asked the AG's office to identify, if they can, who exactly is the beneficiary of this scam.  Who's the company or service that would reap some money from the scam?  No answer yet.


Caribbean scammers trying to get you to answer bogus calls from Antigua

You or someone you know has probably been targeted by the nefarious Island Call Back Gang.

That's our name, anyway, for the spate of phone calls coming into mobile phones that say they're from Antigua, Barbuda or Jamaica.

The Washington Attorney General's office on Monday issued an alert to warn consumers to not answer those calls. Better yet, if you're wise, you should instantly block future calls from those numbers.

According to the AG's office, the calls come from a Caribbean scam squad who are trying to pump up international call fees for … who knows, some obscure calling company somewhere. Or for some “adult” chat service that can rack up charges just by having you wait on hold.

They allegedly are placing thousands of calls to phones all across the U.S. The phone rings once and then disconnects. Fraudsters hope you will call the number back out of curiosity and then promptly charge you $19.95 for an international call fee and an additional $9 dollars per minute.

Yeah, $9 per minute. The telltale area codes from those callers are 268, 809, 876, 284 and 473 (Grenada).

If you don't know, you can easily use your phone to block future calls. Google “block unwanted cell calls iPhone” or “block unwanted calls Android phone.”


Barter’s Closet launches an indiegogo campaign to raise $20,000

Spokane startup Barter's Closet is raising money via Indiegogo to help develop a mobile app.

This slick little video shows founder Connor Simpson making the pitch. Does a fine job highlighting how the clothes-trading business operates. They're trying to raise $20,000.

The company is based in the cool renovated Buchanan Building in downtown Spokane.


Spokane dog startup icPooch launches its second Kickstarter campaign for $20K

icPooch, the Spokane tech startup that wants the world to have a simple way to communicate long-distance with their dogs, is after a new round of funding, via Kickstarter.

Last year, Brooke Martin and her dad, Chris Martin, launched the company which intends to develop and sell a smart-device system that would let owners interact with their pets, via a smartphone or tablet.

Last summer they mounted a $70,000 Kickstarter campaign that wasn't successful.

They're now more than halfway to getting their new target of $20,000. They're at $13,000 and counting, with the Kickstarter campaign ending in early March.

The product primarily is a connected device that lets owners see and interact with their pets, provided the pet is sitting somewhere near the icPooch device. Apart from having a conversation with Fido, the owner is also able to provide the pet a treat, dispensed from a tray in the device.


Ben and Jerry’s downtown moves out — temporarily. Reopens in a week

The downtown Ben and Jerry's, in River Park Square, has not downsized.

It's moved temporarily into the corner spot of the third floor food court while its main service area is going through a total makeover.

The company expects to reopen in the fresh new food area around Feb. 12.

RPS is owned and operated by the Cowles Co., which also operates The Spokesman-Review.


The Epicenter is one of AudioControl’s most popular car-stereo items

Today's business story, about the Spokane workshop helping Seattle's AudioCenter gain more market share with its audio gear, had two photos by SR photographer Dan Pelle.

This post help show one of the company's most successful products, the $199-range Epicenter, designed for audio systems in cars and trucks. One of the best places to get it is through

The Epicenter was first released almost 25 years ago by the Seattle firm. It's been revised and improved a number of times since. Instead of being a bass booster, the Epicenter is described as a bass “restorer.”  Too often, in-line factory systems create an uneven jarring low end of bass tones.

The Epicenter injects low frequency information back into the signal, giving the bass a fuller and more natural sound. Plus, the Epicenter allows for controlling the low end frequencies for a smoother overall sound.


Olympia owners fined a second time for failing to file purchase notification

An Olympia moving company has been fined by Washington state for the second time in seven months for not filing an application before acquiring another moving company. In this newest case, the acquired company was based in Spokane.

The second penalty assessment, for $7,000, was issued to the owners of Bekins Northwest for not reporting the acquisition of Action Moving Services, Inc., of Spokane. That Spokane firm also operated a moving company in Kent, Accountable Moving & Storage.

The acquisition was dated Nov. 22, according to a release by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The UTC found Kris and Lauri O’Bannon, owners of Northwest Movers Central, LLC, and Northwest Movers, LLC, d/b/a Bekins Northwest, didn't file the application as required by state rules.

That fine was assessed based on $100 per day from Nov. 22, 2013, to Jan. 31, 2014, resulting in a penalty of $7,000.

On Aug. 16, 2013, the O’Bannons were assessed a $4,700 penalty for failing to file an application when they purchased the Olympia-based Bekins operation.

“Violations of this rule are potentially harmful to the public,” said Sharon Wallace, the UTC’s assistant director for consumer protection. “Without accurate ownership information about a regulated company, we can’t assist consumers with complaints or claims; we can’t provide an accurate complaint history or permit status; and we can’t ensure that a company is following laws related to proper insurance, driver drug-testing or vehicle safety.”

The release said the company has 15 days to do one of the following: pay the amount due, request a hearing to contest the violations, or request mitigation of the penalty.


Celebrate the Seahawks and the Seattle victory parade downtown tomorrow

It's still a Seahawks hangover kind of day.

Some locals have organized a Seahawks rally for Wednesday, Feb. 5, inside the River Park Square atrium in downtown Spokane.

It runs from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

KHQ-TV is directly involved, sending over its talent, including Stephanie Vigil, Dan Kleckner and Sam Adams.

Using the mall's 16-foot screen, the event will feature live-feed from the Seahawks parade in downtown Seattle.

All sorts of other stuff will be going on. Seahawk gear will be door-prized for participants.

Of course, you may regard this post as a pandering attempt to urge people to go into the mall, which we're obligated to say is owned by Cowles Co., the owners of The Spokesman-Review and KHQ.


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Alison Boggs (@alisonboggs) Online Producer Alison Boggs posts and manages content on and its social networking accounts.

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Scott Maben Scott Maben is a Deputy City Editor who covers North Idaho news and higher education.

Addy Hatch is the city editor, and formerly was business editor.

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