Downtown Spokane someday could be known as the “Terabyte Triangle” among computer techies nationwide.
Though it sounds more like a Twilight Zone episode than an economic development tool, the concept could be a critical piece in downtown Spokane’s revitalization puzzle.
Similar to a mini Silicon Valley, the Terabyte Triangle is a plan to attract software and multimedia companies to empty office spaces in the downtown core, forming a neighborhood of related industries.
“I thought the time had really come for Spokane to latch onto that idea,” said Steve Simmons, co-director of the software engineering laboratory at the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute (SIRTI).
The Terabyte Triangle refers to the area bounded roughly by the Arena on the north, Browne’s Addition on the west, the Riverpoint campus on the east and the railroad tracks on the south. Businesses within this area would be able to access cheap, fast Internet service.
The name refers to computer data volume. A terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes. Most home computers sold today have about 1 gigabyte of hard-drive storage capacity.
Simmons, also a computer science professor at Eastern Washington University, borrowed the idea of bringing software-related companies into the downtown core from Portland and San Jose, Calif.
SIRTI directors like Simmons’ proposal and have been selling the idea to civic leaders, software companies and developers.
“It could attract a neighborhood of like-minded users, of people who are oriented toward high tech,” said Ron Wells, who is restoring the historic Washington Water Power steam plant into a group of shops, restaurants and offices. Wells is one of several developers and property owners considering wiring their buildings for high-speed Internet access.
“We’re evaluating it. It’s a very strong possibility. Software companies are interested in the unique character of historic buildings,” Wells said. “I think it’s exciting because the potential is there.”
Most buildings downtown are Internet-ready, but do not have connections powerful enough to handle huge volumes of information, Simmons said.
The triangle idea involves taking advantage of the technology and existing downtown businesses and adding to them. Downtown’s U.S. Bank Building - home to several telecommunications companies and Internet service providers - is a major connecting point for high-speed Internet use. Newly installed fiber optic cables downtown also will speed transmission of information.
Proximity and support services are important, Simmons said. “The closer you are, the easier it is to connect to the Internet drop point in the U.S. Bank Building,” Simmons said. “Every building downtown is potentially a site for the Terabyte Triangle, because every building is a stone’s throw from a major Internet hook-up.”
Though there’s heavy competition nationwide to attract software and multimedia companies, Spokane has some advantages, said Terry Novak, director of the Joint Center for Higher Education.
First, said Novak, there’s the Internet connecting point downtown. Second, several historic buildings are available for renovation, which requires ripping out all the wiring anyway. Third, many of the support services these companies need already are located downtown.
SIRTI met once with developers and software companies, asking for input. Two more meetings are planned. SIRTI also plans to provide technical education and assistance to companies and developers. A technical support handbook published by SIRTI will be available in mid-April.
The Terabyte Triangle plan has been applauded by civic leaders as a way to fill vacant office space with high-paying jobs and complement planned retail and entertainment projects, such as River Park Square.
“The good thing to know is software companies have well-paid employees,” Simmons said.
The Downtown Spokane Partnership, which manages the area’s business improvement district, supports the triangle concept.
“The board really liked the idea,” said Karen Valvano, president of the partnership. “We have to have a strong office population. That is the heart of making retail, restaurants and entertainment successful. Office space is the centerpiece of our strategy.”
Some 35 software companies and developers attended SIRTI’s first meeting on the plan and some concerns were voiced, including parking, security, and costs.
Dave Lenartz, who owns Byte Dynamics, a software company in the Valley, supports the Terabyte Triangle idea, but said higher rents in downtown buildings keep him where he is. “That’s why I’m out in the Valley,” he said.
Developers face major costs of wiring buildings for high-speed Internet use.
“You could spend more than $50,000,” Wells said, adding that the cost varies depending on the quality of the equipment installed.
SIRTI officials acknowledge that the plan is in its early stages and kinks must be hammered out.
Still, Simmons sees the idea coming to life this summer with the first buildings being wired and demonstration sites set up to attract new companies.
“Spokane is going to be discovered,” said Lyle Anderson, director of SIRTI. “With good jobs and good job opportunities, we can influence what our community looks like when it’s discovered.”