The Spokane City Council on Monday gave the green light to tear down two 85-year-old downtown warehouses.
The city already has a demolition permit for the historic structures, which sit on the southeast corner of Riverside and Division, but the land is owned by Washington State University.
The council voted 6-1 to approve an agreement that transfers the land to the city, clearing the way for the buildings’ removal.
The warehouses are the former homes of Western Piggly Wiggly, a grocery chain based in Spokane that later was bought by Safeway, and Ryan Fruit Co. Earlier this year, downtown developer Dan Spalding unsuccessfully tried to persuade the city and WSU to save at least one of the buildings.
City administrators say that the buildings are in the way of the proposed extension of Riverside Avenue, which will be called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Eldon Brown, Spokane’s principal engineer of developer services, said construction of Riverside and demolition of the warehouses is expected to start around Oct. 1.
City Councilman Richard Rush, the lone vote against the transfer, said the city should have worked to complete the project without tearing down the warehouses, which he said could have supported businesses that would help the University District thrive.
“It seems like we need to expand our tax base and to expand our developable properties,” Rush said.
Other council members, however, said that after years of planning, it’s time to move forward on a project they believe will help create a better campus by pulling traffic from Trent — what will someday be the middle of the campus — onto Riverside at the edge of WSU-Spokane.
Councilman Steve Corker noted that most of Spokane’s Great Northern Railroad station and other important buildings were torn down to make way for Expo ‘74.
“Sometimes you lose the battle to win the war,” Corker said. “It was the price we had to pay for Riverfront Park.”
Some historic preservation advocates argue that the city is circumventing its own demolition ordinance by allowing the buildings to be torn down. Under city law, the downtown warehouses can’t be torn down unless they are replaced. City engineers argue that the building is being a replaced by a new WSU-Spokane building that is a few blocks away and would be built whether or not the warehouses are removed.
Councilwoman Amber Waldref said she hopes WSU and the city focus on saving the Jensen-Byrd building, which also is in the University District.
“It does pain me a bit … when we have an ordinance in the city that is supposed to protect historic buildings downtown,” she said.
PHOTO DATA: Libby Photo Collection Courtesy of Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. The warehouse at 28 E. Riverside Ave. in Spokane, shown in 1928, was constructed by Western Piggly Wiggly, a grocery chain eventually taken over by Safeway.