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Big plans for a rocky site

Thu., Oct. 15, 2009

Work under way on commercial park project

Carl Guenzel has an explanation for the neat rows of perfectly symmetrical mounds that began popping up recently in a field east of Spokane Valley Mall.

“Martians,” he said.

Actually, they’re the result of additional development in an area that is becoming the city’s commercial center of gravity because of its proximity to Interstate 90.

Guenzel is a Kiemle & Hagood real estate broker who represents Hanson Industries. Hanson owns most of the retail sites around the mall and east of there on Indiana Avenue.

“For the next five years, that’s going to be one of the hottest spots in Spokane County,” Guenzel said. “You’ve got 100,000 cars a day driving by and looking at the sign on the side of your building.”

The “Martian” mounds were created by crews crushing rocks in the final stage of preparing a 35-acre, mixed-use commercial park on Indiana Avenue, about a half-mile east of Spokane Valley Mall.

“Every time the crusher finishes a load, it moves on,” leaving another mysteriously perfect mound, Guenzel said.

It’s a way of clearing rocks from the site and recycling them. The crushed rock will serve as base material for the development.

Tentatively dubbed Hanson Center East Addition, the Hanson Industries project is near the 250,000-square-foot River View Corporate Center that Walt Worthy Enterprises opened early this year at 16201 E. Indiana Ave. It is next door to a 107-room Hampton Inn now under construction.

The eastward march will continue when the city extends Indiana to the corner of Mission and Flora from its current dead end at the eastern edge of the Hanson property.

Besides relieving traffic on Sullivan Road by giving Greenacres residents a more direct route to Spokane Valley Mall, the Indiana extension will enable a 50-acre development by Centennial Property Management Co.

Plans for that project are still “quite preliminary,” but call for a pedestrian-oriented mix of small retail shops, restaurants and entertainment venues to create a “community gathering spot,” according to Centennial Vice President Bob Smith.

“We could see a children’s play area,” Smith said. “We’re looking at conceptualizing maybe even a music venue, a band-shell type of thing where people could sit and listen to music.”

He said the project would serve as a transition between residential areas to the east and the office and big-box commercial developments to the west.

Only one large building, on the south side of Indiana, is envisioned. Even that could wind up being split into several smaller buildings, Smith said.

He said the large building is penciled in as a grocery store, mainly to ensure there is adequate parking for any kind of business. Regulations require a high ratio of parking spaces for grocery stores.

“We don’t have anybody in mind at this time,” he said.

Centennial is a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Guenzel said Hanson Industries last week paved a new street, Desmet Court, to serve its 20-lot addition. Infrastructure, including utilities and fiber optic-cables, and a traffic study also have been completed, he said.

“They’re basically buildable pads,” ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 square feet, Guenzel said. “So we are ready to sell now. When the market turns around, we’re ready to go.”

He said the project has taken a couple of years to get to this point, and will need several more to complete. Consequently, he said, “We’re not too concerned about the economy.”

Hanson Industries has the ability to build on the site without a lot of outside financing, Guenzel said.

Although retail is permissible in the area’s mixed-use commercial zoning, Guenzel said “hard-core” retail isn’t planned because there is so much of that near the mall. Office and light industrial uses are more likely, he said.

“We have a ton of flexibility on what we can do there,” he said.

The city’s plan to extend Indiana next year is important to both the Hanson and Centennial projects, and both are contributing land for it.

While Hanson is donating a small portion of abandoned railroad right of way, Centennial is giving most of the land needed for the 0.4-mile street extension, according to Steve Worley, the city’s senior engineer for capital projects.

Worley said the extension is good for city residents because it will complete a major east-west arterial north of Interstate 90 and relieve traffic on overloaded Sullivan Road.

Greenacres residents will have a straight shot to the Spokane Valley Mall on Mission Avenue, which will join Indiana with a sweeping curve through the Centennial property.

Currently, Greenacres residents have to go south on Flora or Barker roads and use Broadway or Sprague avenues to get to Sullivan. Then they have to go back north to reach the mall.

Including the right-of-way donations, the project cost is valued at $2.6 million, but Worley said a state grant will cover $1.6 million of the cost. The city’s share will be about $315,000, he said.

Worley said the project was conceived as a two-lane road with a center turn lane, but instead will consist of a pair of divided one-way lanes that swoop around an island of developable land. Centennial envisions amenities such as children’s play areas in the island.

“We wanted to create a roadway that would control the traffic going through there from a speed standpoint without putting in speed bumps and very physical kinds of restraints,” Smith said.

He said Centennial will install infrastructure for its development in conjunction with next year’s street construction.

At that point, Smith said, Centennial will focus more attention on the project design.

“It’s going to be driven by market and economics,” he said. “We’re not going to force anything.”

Worley said he hopes to start construction on the street extension in April or May, and the work should take about four months.

The Indiana Avenue extension will give Spokane Valley another roundabout, at the corner of Mission and Flora. The first opened last winter at the corner of Mansfield Avenue, Wilbur Road and Montgomery Drive.

Worley said the Mission-and-Flora roundabout is one of two to be built next year.

The other will be at the corner of Broadway and Flora, as part of a project to improve Broadway between Moore and Flora roads – where there has been intense commercial development, including Kohl’s, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart stores.

Worley said Broadway is to be brought up to urban standards with a center turn lane, bicycle lanes, curbs, gutters and sidewalks. Currently, the street has only two traffic lanes and gravel shoulders.

The project is expected to cost $3.4 million, of which the city will pay about $341,000.

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