Take a half-dozen older warehouses, convert them tospacious loft apartments, add a few cafes and maybe a tasteful art gallery. Wait and see.
It’s a proven formula in bigger cities, where that sort of mix has created trendy little districts and a sense of civic vitality and fizz.
It’s also the kind of activity Spokane lacks, particularly near downtown.
And it could happen soon in a two-block stretch on Spokane’s North Side near Gonzaga University.
Using the renovated-warehouse district idea, several property owners along DeSmet Avenue between Division and Pearl plan to turn their street into an artsy enclave of shops and artists’ loft apartments.
City officials like the idea as well, since it might revitalize an aging industrial district near downtown. Teresa Brum, Spokane’s historic preservation officer, is helping the group apply to have the site placed on the National Historic Register.
The first step in creating the district is coming from developer Jim Delegans. Delegans, who helped convert the old City Hall into a commercial property, is converting the four-story Fuller Paint warehouse at 111 E. DeSmet into a 12-unit loft-apartment/business complex.
Delegans and other building owners along DeSmet, including Burgan’s Furniture, Peerless Sunpuft and Market Equipment, have agreed on the general goal of moving forward with renovation.
Six of the seven warehouses on the two blocks are still in use. Most of them date from the 1920s and ‘30s.
Before nominating the area for the national register, Brum and Delegans are looking for an appropriate name that recalls its history. Informally, they’re calling it the university warehouse district.
Getting on the register would provide possible tax breaks for owners and a clearer, stronger sense of neighborhood identity.
Added Brum: “This area could well be the most cohesive streetscape north of the Spokane River.”
If placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the district would become Spokane’s second commercial district with that distinction.
The first is Riverside Avenue’s Historic District west of Monroe, which includes the Spokane Chamber of Commerce Building and Spokane Club.
None of the warehouse property owners has balked at the proposal, Brum said.
“Getting on the register does not stop them from changing their properties. In fact, they can even tear these buildings down if they want,” Brum added.
Spurring activity and helping Delegans push ahead with the Fuller warehouse conversion were two recent changes, the construction of Gonzaga’s new Jundt Art Center and the city’s rerouting of traffic along the Division-Ruby Street couplet.
The new art center is becoming a cultural attraction for the city’s arts crowd and will attract more activity to the university’s west edge, including the DeSmet area.
GU officials say they see the warehouse projects as a natural complement to future growth of the campus.
“We’re already considering building a performing arts center just down from DeSmet,” said Ken Sammons, Gonzaga’s director of planning and construction.
Delegans expects the Fuller warehouse to be ready for occupants later this year.
The building will have 12 loft apartments on its top three floors, while the main level will feature a restaurant and another business.
Lorinda Silverstein, a Spokane interior designer, has talked with Delegans about opening an art gallery in the building.
He and the other property owners use the term “live-work” to describe what can come from such converted buildings.
Creating lofts usually helps attract artists who can enjoy the advantages of city living while also using their apartments as work spaces, Brum said.
Brum said the loft residents would be a cross-section of the arts community - professional artists as well as people who enjoy living near artists.
“That type of (loft) housing is what I would have looked for when I moved here 10 years ago ” said Carl Oswalds, a graphic artist who now uses a two-room office downtown for his freelance design work.
The closest Spokane ever got to an art district was the block of buildings near 123 S. Madison. That block, with the 123 Arts Building as the centerpiece, tried to attract artists with studio space, a coffee shop and a performing arts center.
The university warehouse project should be stronger and more successful, said Ralph Busch, the outreach coordinator for the Spokane Arts Department and former manager at 123 Arts.
For one thing, the DeSmet district will have upscale apartments and will have the advantage of being near Gonzaga University, he said.
“Plus, what’s being planned is something romantic - loft living. It should appeal to some of Spokane’s more successful artists, or collectors, or just people who find that lifestyle very appealing.”
Over time, Busch and others see the area west of Gonzaga toward Division evolving into Spokane’s own smaller version of Seattle’s university district.
“It’s something we really have not had here,” added Busch. “A place for artists to get together and meet. And a place for the entire community to come for a taste of something not found anywhere else.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color) Map of area