August 15, 2007 in City

Council gets city center update

By The Spokesman-Review

What’s next

City-hired consultants are negotiating with landowners and finalizing the city center plans, which the council hopes to firm up by September.

The realities of retail development engrossed the City Council on Tuesday at its latest meeting with consultants hired to help develop a city center for Spokane Valley.

Shopping-center expert Bob Gibbs gave Spokane Valley leaders a sense of what it would take to attract businesses to the city’s proposed mixed-use center near the University City Mall.

“What you’re planning is very timely,” Gibbs told the council.

While reiterating his earlier findings that there is a large surplus of retail space for rent in Spokane Valley, he indicated it’s likely the project could attract crucial anchor retailers because the center would be the first of its kind in the region.

Last year the City Council tentatively moved forward with a plan to negotiate with Sprague Avenue property owners to secure several unused or partially used lots east of University Road. The city would then solicit a developer to invest in a retail and residential center where a City Hall, and possibly a library, would be among the publicly funded improvements.

Since then, consultants from three of the firms working on the project have offered divergent perspectives on whether there would be enough retail demand in Spokane Valley to make the project profitable.

“Can we provide the type of environment to attract these types of national chains to be our anchors?” Councilman Rich Munson asked Gibbs.

Gibbs couldn’t say for sure, but he said the new type of shopping experience that is available now only in downtown Spokane would likely attract retailers that haven’t looked at Spokane Valley before.

One of the first advocates of new urbanism, Gibbs also elaborated on the city planning philosophy that produces communities that look a lot more like cities did before World War II. New urbanist development is focused more on pedestrians than cars, and rules governing buildings are centered more on aesthetics and design principles than keeping residential separate from commercial.

Plans to gradually transform Sprague into a mix of attractive housing and retail centers, though, are starkly different from what is there now.

The city’s sign code, for example, had been a point of contention among Sprague business owners for years, but Spokane Valley’s standards remain lax compared with other cities, such as Liberty Lake.

“I would encourage you to have the highest standards possible for your signage. Smaller is better,” Gibbs said.

Just because the center would look different than other shopping centers, he said, doesn’t necessarily mean that the type of stores where most people would shop would change. National and regional retailers use most of the shopping space in most successful town centers, he said, with at least 10 percent of the businesses locally owned. Offices or apartments usually occupy upper floors.

Consultants hired by the city are negotiating with landowners and finalizing the city center plans, which the council hopes to firm up by September when the library district needs to write a bond proposal for new Valley libraries.

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