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Strive To Avoid Growing Pains

A freeway runs through it. And that makes the Spokane Valley ideal for the explosive growth now taking shape around I-90 and Sullivan Road.

Late this summer, the Spokane Valley Mall will open 750,000 square feet of new retail space. That’s three department stores and 60 smaller shops. Nearby land is sprouting a crop of “big box” stores, such as Circuit City and Wal-Mart.

This adds up to a million square feet of new retail space - and that’s only a beginning. Additional phases could double and triple the retail space.

To the north at Mirabeau Point, planning is under way for a 70-acre community center to address the Valley’s need for recreation facilities, with a gym, an aquatics center, an ice rink, play fields, an amphitheater, a senior center and connections to the Centennial Trail.

These projects have huge ramifications, beyond their obvious appeal to shoppers and park-goers:

They are a long step toward our future - solid development all the way from downtown Spokane to Coeur d’Alene. Once this was a valley of wildflowers, then farms, now businesses and homes.

Traffic. Already, I-90 is rutted and its congestion slows vehicles to a crawl at peak periods. There are plans for additional lanes, but this spring’s rejection of a state gas tax increase killed hopes for funding and construction for at least two years.

Traffic engineers forecast more congestion on Sullivan and Pines as motorists make their way to the new attractions. A freeway interchange at Evergreen would provide relief but the state has no money to build it. Contributions from new businesses might make it possible to begin the interchange, in phases.

Other retail centers, particularly Northtown and a number of smaller malls and strip malls, face tough competition. The number of vacant commercial buildings may increase.

Downtown Spokane’s search for a niche, distinct from the malls, is more important than ever. At present, the vision includes high-quality and specialty retailers, an arts and entertainment district, restored buildings with historical features such as the Davenport and Steam Plant Square, Riverfront Park, the Marketplace, convention facilities, a university campus and a commercial sector recently affirmed by Metropolitan Mortgage’s decision to occupy the Farm Credit Banks building.

The local tax base will shift in favor of county government as the new retail dynamos pour sales and property tax revenue into the county treasury. The money will help the county serve its booming unincorporated areas, though a shift of revenue could crimp the city’s resources unless downtown maintains its vitality.

Growth like this can be a sign of vigor. It also brings management challenges, and it’s important for all of us to face them.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board