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Downtown Redevelopment Pays Big Dividends For Canadian City

Remember property manager and developer Bob Robideaux’s vision a few years ago of a crystal palace bridging the intersection of Main Avenue and Wall Street?

The Plaza at Crescent Court, it was called.

The concept was to create a community focal point and gathering place for events ranging from concerts to trade shows. This in turn would generate tens of millions of dollars of added retail trade for surrounding merchants and serve as the catalyst for resurgent downtown.

As a community centerpiece, the crystal palace was a thing of beauty on paper - a glittering pyramid-shape atrium rising five stories above the sidewalks.

But with a price tag of $10 million and without retail or office tenants to help pay the rent, the glitzy architectural showpiece was cost prohibitive.

So it never materialized.

But lo and behold - shift the crystal palace one block west, turn it 90 degrees, slide it back so it straddles the street and the sidewalks a full block from Main to Spokane Falls Boulevard.

And presto, change-o. It’s the atrium and plaza enveloping the Post Street pedestrian mall in the conceptual plan for proposed redevelopment of the River Park Square shopping complex, which is owned by affiliates of Cowles Publishing Co.

I’m so glad to see that the crystal palace has survived. However impractical, it was a grand eye-catcher as the plaza anchoring Crescent Court.

As the crown jewel of a redeveloped River Park Square, the reincarnated castle supplies the necessary grandeur to render the project viable.

And, unlike the Plaza at Crescent Court, it will be chock full of retailers and shoppers to help the economic feasibility of the $80-million proposal pencil out.

From what I have been able to gather about the conceptual design, the River Park Square project has a lot of the look and feel of Eaton Center in the heart of downtown Victoria, British Columbia. This core-area mall was built just five years ago around Canada’s venerated Eaton department store.

A five-story Eaton’s store occupies one full block. An adjoining four-story enclosed mall of 110 shops occupies another full block. Together these two blocks anchor downtown retailing and provide the synergy that keeps the Canadian seaport’s bustling downtown tourist district mobbed by shoppers.

Obviously, Eaton Center is a two-block mall, the same as River Park Square. And Eaton Center spotlights Eaton’s, the same as River Park Square focuses on Nordstrom.

Furthermore, Eaton’s department store and Eaton Center flank a towering atrium, the same as the one planned for a reconfigured River Park Square.

In Eaton Center, individual shops ring balconies or mezzanines that rise level upon level around an atrium that is open from its skylight to its basement. Much the same layout is planned for River Park Square.

And finally, exterior architectural embellishments for the redo of River Park Square envision the possible recreation of individual historic-replica storefronts reminiscent of old Spokane.

That, too, is like Victoria’s Eaton Center.

“Both of our blocks - Eaton’s the store and Eaton Center - were built new in 1990 to look old,” says center marketing director Barry Ringstead. “We resurrected, in effect, the facades of several extinct buildings dating back to the early 1900s.”

Ringstead says some questioned the propriety of erecting a new enclosed shopping mall in the middle of the “sensitive” downtown historic district.

Eaton Center is just three blocks from one of the Pacific Northwest’s all-time most celebrated grand old hotels - The Empress, Ringstead points out.

In Spokane, River Park Square is a couple blocks from the Davenport Hotel, arguably the region’s other most renowned grand hotel, but shuttered now for 10 years. “Everyone remembers the Davenport,” observed Ringstead.

In Victoria, Eaton Center has proven to be a financial blessing not only to surrounding business and property owners but a plus for the downtown environment overall. The Empress included.

“The added shoppers have contributed to the vibrancy of our old town,” says Ringstead, “and thus helped to preserve many of our older buildings.

“Eaton Center has come to serve as a cultural center of the community as well. It includes a theater (a theater also is envisioned for River Park Square) and other entertainment activities and events.

“All of this is part of the magic of a very very busy downtown,” says Ringstead. “I would hate to say downtown is too busy. I would like to think we will always be able to make room for a few more people.”


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

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