There’s something about East Sprague.
It’s just a bit outside of downtown, but not quite suburban. It is home to some thriving homegrown businesses such as Northwest Seed and Pet. Trudeau’s Marina and Cassano’s Italian market, just a few blocks east of Division, have been there for generations. Sonnenberg’s Market is famous for its sausage.
Lately, Asian restaurants have moved in and so has One World Spokane, a nonprofit organic restaurant. Yet there are still many empty storefronts along Sprague’s sidewalks and some of the historic buildings are used mostly for storage, instead of for retail and apartments.
Business owners and residents have worked diligently to create another destination neighborhood, like the Garland District or South Perry, and now Impact Capital through its Vibrant Communities Program is giving East Sprague a leg up.
Over the next three years, Impact Capital will invest $50,000 a year to help organize targeted neighborhood revitalization in what’s known as the Keystone International District – the area in East Central bounded by Helena to the west, Crestline to the east, I-90 to the south and the railroad tracks to the north.
“This neighborhood has so much potential, it has great commercial buildings that need a little TLC, and there are great Victorian homes,” said Tracy Reich, senior program officer for Impact Capital. “There is some underutilized space there, and there are great buildings, like the McKinley School, which could become a big part of helping the community develop.”
Impact Capital administers a combination of private donations and public funds to help revitalize communities in a sustainable manner.
“We’re lucky that in this case we already have a very strong neighborhood plan, and a business development plan – we can help work on all this to implement a neighborhood action plan,” said Reich.
Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs will coordinate this new effort which James Hanley, owner of Acme TV, said is just what’s needed.
Actually, Hanley believes so much in the Vibrant Neighborhoods program that he’s offered the staff an office upstairs from his own shop.
“Lots of people want to help out doing good for the neighborhood,” Hanley said, “but you got to have someone to coordinate the effort.”
Hanley said the neighborhood had a great experience with an AmeriCorps volunteer who, just last year, got a lot of cleanup and volunteer work done.
The $50,000 a year will not go to brick and mortar.
“This is essentially money to hire a lead agency,” said Holly Martin, community development director for SNAP. “SNAP will be the go-to agency.”
The Vibrant Communities project will begin this summer, and the office will be staffed by a full-time economic development person from SNAP, an AmeriCorps volunteer and also interns from WSU’s and EWU’s urban planning and architectural programs.
First on the list is a neighborhood inventory.
“We need to know what everyone is doing,” said Martin, who expects to spend a lot of time with business owners and residents, listening to what they have to say. “Then we need to look at all the plans, the neighborhood plan, the plan the business community has come up with, and we need to figure out which part from each plan applies to the neighborhood in what way.”
A building inventory is also necessary.
“Some of the buildings, though they are architecturally beautiful, may be beyond salvage,” said Martin, adding that SNAP also brings a small business loan program to the table.
High on the wish list from the East Spokane Business Association – which Hanley is very active in – is a new streetscape.
“That is so expensive,” said Hanley. “We have plans from Helena to Altamont. It runs something like $250,000 per block – it’s like it eats money.”
The East Spokane Business Association has reached out to the Downtown Spokane Partnership and is also working with the University District.
“We’d love to get some more businesses out here,” said Hanley. “We are just three minutes from downtown, rent is cheaper here, and the zoning makes it possible.”
The Vibrant Communities Project is one more building block toward revitalizing a neighborhood that used to have a bit of a rough reputation.
“Lots have changed out here over the past 10 years,” said Hanley, whose family has had a business on East Sprague since 1945. “There’s been a lot of remodeling done and cleanup. As the downtown district becomes more expensive, people have to find space they can afford somewhere else – we hope they come out here.”