‘We are a light-house-in a sea of darkness,” Peter Kerwien says of Washington Water Power Co.’s new motel in the Davenport Hotel district.
Actually it’s not exactly new. And the Rodeway Inn City Center doesn’t in the least resemble a lighthouse. It’s the old Lincoln Center Motor Inn, just across First Avenue from the Davenport.
It is, however, enveloped by a “sea of darkness” at night, as all up and down the street, buildings lock up tight, turn out the lights, and the neighborhood blacks out.
But the power company has put $200,000 into remodeling, refurbishing and brightening up the 81-room motel to attract a better clientele.
And last Thursday evening it was swamped as hundreds dropped in for an open house to celebrate the change. “We had food fixed for 500,” general manager Pam Baker reported the morning after, “and it’s all gone.”
This used to be the heart of the theater, hospitality and fine dining district - the thick of Spokane nightlife.
But the grand old Davenport itself has stood shuttered the past 10 years. And the district has gone to pot.
As luck would have it, a couple years ago, just when it appeared new owners might finally undertake long-promised full-scale restoration of this historic treasure, a decades-old oil leak by the utility surfaced.
Since then, the owners of the Davenport have laid the lack of progress on uncertainty created by potential contamination. Until lenders can be guaranteed that the hotel has a clean bill of health, the owners can’t secure financing, they claim. And experts tend to back them up.
Meantime, WWP has given its economic development director, Peter Kerwien, responsibility for fostering redevelopment of the Davenport district in the aftermath of the oil spill.
Upgrading the motor inn is the first concrete step. It represents, says Kerwien, a firm business “commitment” to the future of the ailing district.
The inn has been linked into the Rodeway chain’s national reservations network. Hospitality Associates, a Spokane-based management chain with 27 lodging properties from Sandpoint, Id., to the Hawaiian Islands, will operate the inn.
The renovation includes new paint and wallpaper, carpets, furniture, meeting rooms and lobby - even new windows.
Bambino’s Restaurant & Lounge, also new, will be opening soon.
A couple weeks ago, WWP unveiled a number of proposed solutions to the underground oil leak, including damming it up behind a subterranean wall.
On the basis of these developments, Kerwien says, “It’s time to lift the paralysis from the district, and go forward.”
Initial reactions to the proposed solutions from property owners in the district have been, in Kerwien’s view, “quite favorable.”
But some aren’t persuaded that business life and project plans can proceed at will.
“I don’t think all the facts are in yet,” says former mayor and Davenport advocate Sheri Barnard, Spokane consultant to the hotel’s Hong Kong ownership.
She didn’t “feel comfortable” to comment further in the absence of the hotel’s owners. But the chairman of the board will be in Spokane this summer for six weeks, she said, “And things should come to a head then.”
Other members of an ad hoc Downtown Subcommittee composed of half a dozen key property owners in the spill area were not immediately available for comment.
Dale Arnold, the city’s environmental program director and ex-officio member of the group said, “I can’t speak for the Downtown Subcommittee.
“How a property owner might feel - how these proposed technical solutions might affect plans - I can’t say,” Arnold said. “I have no knowledge of what it takes to get project financing or anything.”
And as to the technical solutions, Arnold said, “It’s too early to hang my hat on any one of the options.
“I do know that cleanup is going to get done,” he assured. “I just don’t know exactly how yet.”
Much remains to be done to solve this problem for the Davenport owners, neighborhood businesses, and the community.
, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel’s column appears on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday.