One of the largest redevelopment projects to hit downtown Spokane in nearly 20 years won City Council approval Monday.
The council voted 5-0 to go after a $23.8 million federal loan that puts River Park Square on the road to nearly doubling in size. Using both public and private money, the shopping mall’s owners plan to build a larger Nordstrom, a pedestrian mall and a glass-enclosed Post Street atrium.
“It is absolutely critical that we make downtown vital,” said Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes. “Some people don’t understand the difference between the word spend and the word invest. What we’re talking about tonight is investing.”
The council also approved plans to buy River Park Square’s parking garage, as well as close Post Street from Main to Spokane Falls Boulevard.
Councilman Chris Anderson abstained from all three votes, and Councilman Mike Brewer was absent.
The council plans to take final action on closing the street next week. A final vote on the parking garage won’t take place until next fall.
Supporters hailed the project as downtown’s savior, saying it will keep Nordstrom from leaving town when its lease expires in 1999. The ripple effect of the store’s departure would signal financial disaster for downtown, causing the Bon Marche and smaller stores also to leave, they say.
“The question is not ‘When have we done enough for downtown?’ The question is ‘What return will we as a community see from this effort..,”’ said Betsy Cowles, president of the two companies that own River Park Square.
“That return will be significant in terms of jobs and tax revenues.., but we must move now. The window is open, but it won’t be for much longer.”
Russ Nobbs, owner of two downtown businesses, gave a heartfelt plea to the council to approve the redevelopment plan.
“Downtown needs the cooperation of all of us,” he said.
Opponents of the plan describe it as “corporate welfare.”
“I don’t feel this is a way to bring rampant government spending under control,” said George McGrath, a frequent critic of council spending.
John Talbot, who described the plan as a “tremendous project with outstanding vision and scope,” also said he didn’t like the idea of taxpayers co-signing the developers’ loan.
River Park Square’s owners plan to build a new Nordstrom store at Main and Lincoln, expanding the department store’s space from 98,000 to 130,000 square feet.
The public-private partnership is headed by Citizens Realty Co. and Lincoln Investments Co., owners of River Park Square and affiliates of Cowles Publishing Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.
About $45 million in private money would be used to build space for local retailers and national chains as well as a food court and movie theater.
The city already has applied for a $3.6 million economic development grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Money from that grant would be used to pay the first year’s interest on the federally guaranteed loan and reduce the annual principal payments each year thereafter.
Supporters pointed to a study by Real Estate Economics, a Bellevue, Wash.-based research group, that said improvements would boost downtown retail employment by 58 percent to slightly more than 3,700 jobs by 1999. Without the project, downtown retail employment could drop as low as 878, the group projects.
“There is a risk on both sides of this venture,” said City Manager Roger Crum. “In my mind, doing nothing is probably a greater risk than going forward.”
More than 200 people attended Monday’s meeting, with nearly 120 people signing up to speak about the project to the council.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Downtown redevelopment The council approved three major components for the downtown project on Monday: Borrowing about $24 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build the Nordstrom store. That money will be repaid over 20 years with lease payments from Nordstrom and surrounding property owners. Vacating Post Street from Spokane Falls Boulevard to Main Avenue, as well as vacate the alley between Spokane Falls and Main that runs from Post to Wall. Closing Post fits into the city’s plans to replace the Post Street bridge with a bridge on Lincoln Street over the Spokane River. Buying the River Park Square parking garage. The $14 million needed to buy and renovate the 750-space garage, as well as to expand it by 566 stalls, would be raised through revenue bonds and paid back with parking receipts over 25 years.