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Fledgling Partnership Could Be Catalyst For Downtown’s Comeback

Wed., March 15, 1995

‘This community has a very strong affinity to the unique character and quality of downtown,” observes William Stacey Cowles, chairman of the Downtown Action Committee.

“Just about everywhere we turn,” says the chair of the broad-based task force charged with rejuvenating the city center, “people are concerned with what’s going on downtown.

“And they want to see it come out right.”

Now, for the first time in several years, there is convincing evidence that it will, yes, in fact, “come out right.”

In the nick of time, downtown Spokane is turning back from the brink. This was a close brush with the irreversible domino-syndrome of escalating downtown decline that has ripped the heart out of so many cities.

But historic change is in the wind, says Cowles, also publisher of The SpokesmanReview, and executive committee member of Momentum and the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of building occurring downtown,” Cowles told the 1995 Spokane Real Estate Market Forum, “so I’ve entitled this (talk) ‘Building for the 21st Century in Downtown Spokane.”’

And he painted a busy picture, noting that over a four-year period from 1993-1997 more than $200 million in capital projects will have been started or completed downtown.

Far and away the biggest plus, in the view of veteran observers of downtown’s long slow slide, will be accommodating myriad business ownerships in a single management entity. An entity capable of acting in the best interest of all concerned. Not just the stakeholders, but the entire community.

That’s magic. It’s what makes shopping centers work so well, one for all and all for one. Its importance for funding, planning, developing, marketing, ensuring the safety and security, cleaning and maintaining downtown Spokane cannot be overstated.

And its creation now appears ordained. Organizers have signed up over 60 percent of 1,200 downtown business and property owners, as required by law, enabling them to create a self-tax parking and business improvement area. It will fund the implementation of a management entity called the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

“We hope to have about $1 million a year,” said Cowles, “to put into running downtown basically as a single business entity. To paying attention to what our strategy is for the future. To paying attention to keeping our retail core strong. To keeping the business core strong. To helping all these things that are happening downtown have more synergy. And to serving the region as best we can.

“Our goal,” Cowles said, “is to maintain downtown Spokane as an economically vibrant neighborhood and exciting regional center for the people of the Inland Northwest to shop, work, live, learn, relax and have fun.”

The Downtown Spokane Partnership has been incorporated. A total of about 100 volunteers on six committees have developed a consensus plan of action that continues to evolve and will change from time to time depending on need.

A petition to create the self-tax district is expected to be filed with the city this month.

“We expect to have it all done by June,” reported Cowles.

Second only in importance to this is ensconcing Nordstrom in an invitingly redeveloped and expanded River Park Square shopping complex. The Cowles family has not confirmed the cost of the project, but some observers have estimated it as high as $60 million. This will be the ultimate proof that a downtown resurgence is at hand.

Cowles, whose family controls the real estate, said he hopes River Park Square renovation will begin within one to three years.

These will be monumental events in the reshaping of downtown Spokane.

Cowles said he had been asked to identify local forces affecting real estate trends in the central business district. “I did my best,” he said, “to do this not really scientifically but by anecdote and gut feel.

“Top of the list is a strong regional economy,” Cowles said. “Downtown is a hub for just about every aspect of our community, from transportation to housing to banking to retail to culture to education. And we are going to see that all reflected in positive impacts on downtown.”

Also on the plus side, Cowles said, “We are going through the Growth Management Act process here. And I think every planning department in the country is focused on building up urban areas as a matter of policy.

“If we are going to preserve our quality of life, we need to focus our businesses and other activities in dense areas, in urban areas,” Cowles said. “The idea of filling in makes a lot of sense and is a positive force for building a strong downtown.”


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