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Downtown Project Called Crucial Study Says Retail Jobs Would Plunge Without Development

Advocates of a proposal to revitalize River Park Square say Spokane is at a “critical juncture” and an $80 million infusion is the only way to save downtown from becoming a desolate urban wasteland.

Flanked by city leaders, the owners of River Park Square unveiled a study Tuesday to support their proposal for additional parking and retail space downtown. The proposal, which must still win approval of the City Council, will be financed by a public/private partnership headed by Citizens Realty Co. and Lincoln Investments Co., affiliates of Cowles Publishing Co.

“We’re facing the very real danger of losing Nordstrom and The Bon. In order to keep them in the downtown core, we need to do something very dramatic,” said Betsy Cowles, president of Citizens and Lincoln.

To keep Nordstrom from leaving when its lease expires in 1999, the owners of River Park Square hope to rebuild and expand Nordstrom’s facilities from 98,000 to 130,000 square feet.

The expanded Nordstrom store is part of a broad plan that includes a pedestrian mall and glass atrium on Post Street, and 550 additional parking spaces in River Park Square’s garage.

Those downtown improvements would boost downtown retail employment by 58 percent to just over 3,700 jobs by 1999, according to Real Estate Economics, a Bellevue, Wash.-based research group. Without the project, downtown retail employment could drop as low as 878, the group projected.

“If the project is a ‘no go,’ the city could have to dig itself out of a hole,” said David Eacret, REE president.

Cowles emphasized that the proposal is a “work in progress” and that many of the details remain sketchy. But she said that all of the project’s financing - including a $3.6 million federal grant and a $24 million federal loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - must come through or the project will die.

“There really isn’t a ‘Plan B’ because the financing of the project is so difficult. All the components are mandatory,” Cowles said..

City Councilman Joel Crosby said the project and the revitalization it will attract will infuse surrounding areas with vitality.

“Within the bounds of the law, we’re going to be doing all we can to rebound the heart of the community,” said Crosby, who emphasized that the proposal is “not a done deal.”

A series of meetings will offer the public a chance to tell city leaders what they think of the proposal:

May 23, 7:30 p.m. at Northeast Community Center, 4001 N. Cook.

May 24, 7:30 p.m. at East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone.

May 25, 2 p.m. in the downtown public library, 906 W. Main.

May 31, 7:30 p.m. at West Central Community Center, 1603 N. Belt.

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