In the entry to a business next to the Spokane Transit Authority’s new downtown transfer center, a loiterer snoozed on the sidwalk as security guards strolled past.
The business operators complain they had to go to higher-ups in the transit system to get action.
Employees of the business are not happy with the job the STA’s security guards are doing.
And they are not thrilled with their new next door neighbor in other ways, as well, like the way buses hog parking space in the vicinity.
Other merchants in the block now dominated by the STA Plaza voice similar concerns.
Ever since the downtown bus depot opened, there has been grumbling about congested sidewalks, a dearth of indoor seating, no outside seating, and loitering.
Passing by one day last week, I chanced upon a private transportation company executive and downtown property owner coming the other way. He wagged his head from side to side as we approached and muttered, “What a circus?”
I invited him to elaborate. “It’s a beautiful building,” he said. “But there’s nobody using it. They’re all standing and sitting and lying out here on the sidewalks.”
That was also a common complaint of business owners and operators with whom I talked. Not one was enthusiastic. I talked with them all. Few thought the center would last long in its current use.
Reactions to STA ranged from outright hostility to, “No comment.” Merchants wanted to talk about their problems, decades of interviewing told me. But they did not want to risk the consequences. As one put it, “If what I say ends up in the newspaper, it could have a serious impact on this business.”
Nonetheless, some could not resist airing their opinions. To avoid penalizing some, no names will be mentioned.
Among those willing to talk, several said they do not expect the $20-million-plus building to remain a transit center long - not the way things are going.
The building is practically empty. Nobody uses it. Everybody waits outside. True, there is scant seating inside. But there is none outside.
Young people sit or sprawl full length on the concrete sidewalk. Weary adults waiting for a ride who evidently are more conscious of the image they project are more apt to stand or lean against the side of buildings in the block.
There are no benches. Should there be? “Opinion is mixed on that,” said a business woman who couldn’t resist voicing an opinion, even while insisting she would not. “If you had benches out there, there’d just be more loitering.”
On the other hand, she agreed, the whole scene wouldn’t look so surreal - with bodies plastered all over the landscape.
Plaza project manager Art Thoma says STA is studying the question of what to do about seating - inside and outdoors.
“We’re going to take our time, and try to do it right,” he said.
Unfortunately, patience with STA may be growing thin.
Most people seem to admire the architecture - even while they express outrage at the cost. But they don’t think the center serves much purpose. They are impatient to have it put to constructive use, whatever that might be, rather than just stand there nearly vacant.
Said the business woman who insisted on not talking, “STA claims when it gets cold, more people will use the building for something other than to wait outside of for a bus. But they haven’t been using the inside this summer while it’s hot outside, so…”
Others wonder where STA ever got such a cockamamie idea to begin with anyway, considering the rapid clip at which buses swoop in and out at the curbside. To wait inside is to gamble on missing the bus.
Apart from appearance, maybe the best things about the new downtown bus center are (1) a family restroom inside, and (2) an absence of cigarette butts outside.
To my knowledge, this is Spokane’s first public rest stop where either parent can take a youngster to do what they have to do and not worry about stressing everybody out.
But best of all is the cleanliness of the new center and the sidewalks surrounding it. Round-the-clock, a cleanup crew vacuums up cigarette butts and litter left by those in our society who were never taught at home or in school to pick up after themselves.