A lane of travel in a block of a downtown street will be eliminated this summer to make way for a bigger parking lot.
The Spokane Public Facilities District next week plans to start construction on a new lot across from the INB Performing Arts Center to replace a hodgepodge of lots currently on the site.
The district received permission this week from the Spokane City Council to use 20 feet of Main Avenue’s right of way to build a bigger lot on the city block surrounded by Washington Street, Spokane Falls Boulevard, Bernard Street and Main. The extra space may one day be used for a larger Convention Center.
Although the council agreed to allow the district to occupy the land, it declined to give up ownership in case it is needed for mass transit or other needs.
“There’s nothing lost,” Councilman Richard Rush said. “We can take it back at any time it’s deemed the highest and best use of the property.”
Public Works Director Dave Mandyke said Main will be condensed from four lanes to three lanes and the sidewalk on the north side of the street will shrink to 10 feet from 20 feet – even though the city’s standard for downtown for sidewalks is 12 feet. The district will pay for the reconfiguration of the street and sidewalk.
Under the agreement, the city can get the land back after a public hearing if a licensed civil engineer concludes that it is “necessary for public street purposes” and that there is “no reasonable alternative.”
Kevin Twohig, executive director of the Public Facilities District, said the extra space will allow the district to include 20 extra parking spaces in the new lot. The $2 million project, which includes the cost of changing the right of way, will add solar lights to the site and have significantly improved landscaping, he said.
“We think narrowing the street slows the traffic down, makes for a much better pedestrian experience and just ultimately makes for a much better Convention Center neighborhood,” Twohig said.
A district report examining the Convention Center’s future foresees using part the land as a parking garage in the next few years. Several concepts also call for expanding exhibit space onto the property by 2020. The extra 20 feet would assist the district in building an expansion that could have storefronts along Main, Twohig said.
Councilman Bob Apple, who cast the lone vote against the agreement, questioned the district’s need for the space. “They don’t even have blueprints,” he said, referring to possible expansion of exhibit space.
Mayor Mary Verner, who was out of town Monday when the City Council finalized the agreement, said Thursday that she needs to study the deal before deciding if she will sign off on it.
“We do have other plans in the pipeline for a reconversion of Main to a two-way and looking at what we really want to do with Main Street to drive economic development along that corridor,” Verner said.
The narrowing of Main could affect plans for a downtown bike lane loop. Next year, the city plans to create bike lanes on Spokane Falls Boulevard and a portion of Main. If the project comes in under budget, there could be enough money to extend the lane to the affected block, Mandyke said.
If that happens, the city would shrink existing traffic lanes on the block or eliminate one side of street parking, Mandyke said.
Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who said she would have supported vacating the property, said it’s OK to narrow Main because it’s not a thoroughfare like Riverside Avenue, one block south.
“Even though the street is called Main Street, it’s not the main street,” McLaughlin said.