June 13, 2006 in Business

Neighborhood survey has a few blind spots

Bert Caldwell The Spokesman-Review
 

If recent surveys done by Eastern Washington University students are accurate, too many Spokanites think their future lies in their past.

In neighborhood after neighborhood, and sometimes from outside the neighborhood, survey respondents said museums and/or antique stores could be major attractions. Many visitors might warm up at a coffee shop, or cool off at an ice cream parlor. Better yet, how about a sit-down restaurant?

Leave your laptop computer at home. And the children. Interest in Wi-Fi connectivity was weaker than a radio signal from Pluto. Childcare facilities were as popular as loose pets. Laundromats were another no-no.

Huh?

Granted, a storefront full of washing machines may not be a beacon of prosperity, but laundries are one of many services that should be within a short drive or walk in a viable neighborhood. And childcare itself may not be a bedrock industry, but in this era of two-income families, how could a primary industry find a work force without some place parents could safely leave their children?

The surveys were taken by students finishing their undergraduate work in management under EWU Lecturer Larry Davis. Airway Heights, Cheney and Greenbluff were canvassed, as were the East Sprague, North Monroe, Hillyard and West Central neighborhoods. There were more than 1,000 respondents, some of whom were approached during Bloomsday in order to sample non-residents. The students presented their results Friday.

The objective, Davis says, was to find unmet service and product needs to help shape strategic development plans. Possible themes were suggested, with museums, antique stores, restaurants and music among them.

Most of the focus was retail. For Cheney, the students were trying to determine how best the city might attract business to the vast, empty facility where Key Tronic Corp. and Honeywell once employed hundreds. Given its proximity to both Spokane and the expertise and students at EWU’s main campus, good broadband links and easy convertibility, the plant is ready-made for manufacturing, distribution or a call center, the students concluded.

The challenges in Airway Heights are familiar; the hazards of crossing Highway 2, and the need for greenery along same. But respondents also said a second grocery store, perhaps even a Wal-Mart, would be nice. A hardware store, too, as if a longstanding, home-grown store did not already exist. It was not the only example of apparent resident ignorance or carelessness about assets already in the communities or neighborhoods where they live.

It was in the neighborhoods that the results took on the sameness; museums, etc., with safety and beautification add-ons for East Sprague in particular. There seems to be less focus on addressing the needs of nearby residents than taking care of visitors. Whether it was the sampling or the questions, for example, far too many suggested they would pay $10 to $15 for a restaurant meal. The restaurateurs in town might question just how often those people are dining out. Take-out is more Spokane’s style, although Davis foresees a row of upscale eateries on West Broadway when the proposed Kendall Yards development fills out.

“It’s exactly the right street,” he says.

Another puzzlement: The yen for an international district even though, as one student accurately observed, they must arise organically, not as a result of artificial designation.

Perhaps the most valuable work was done for Greenbluff where, not coincidentally, residents and businesses were apparently most engaged in the process. Orchardists are searching for activities that will sustain visitor traffic when fruit picking and associated activities lapse, or that will expand the revenue opportunities. A bed and breakfast inn could be an option, or a corporate retreat. Above all, the area northeast of Spokane must raise its profile.

“There could be a lot more customers with more focused marketing,” says Davis, who will be following up on the student findings.

For Greenbluff, the past may indeed be a prelude. A museum might make sense for Hillyard and its roots in railroading. For the rest, the past is an antique better passed on.


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