September 16, 2009 in City

Tribal cultural center bid likely for falls site

By The Spokesman-Review

Inland Northwest Indian tribes may regain a strong presence along Spokane Falls.

The Spokane Park Board last week voted to solicit proposals for a long-term lease of a 1.1-acre parking lot that the park department owns just north of Spokane Falls.

Park leaders request plans recognizing “the historic and cultural aspects of the region.”

Spokane Park Board member Randy Cameron said the board is especially interested in concepts for a tribal cultural center.

“There’s no question that that’s something a lot of people want to see,” Cameron said. But, he added, officials don’t want to discourage other concepts.

David Ernst, planning and economic development director for the Spokane Tribe of Indians, said the tribe plans to respond to the request. The lot is bordered by Monroe Street, Lincoln Street and Bridge Avenue.

“Right outside this building and for tens of thousands of years there was a tribal presence,” Ernst said in an interview after speaking to the Park Board at City Hall. He said the falls are the “epicenter of the Spokane Tribe.”

Other tribes also are expressing interest in participating in a tribal center.

April Pierre, spokeswoman for the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, told the Park Board that the Kalispel Tribe is “eager to be involved.”

Ernst said the Spokane Tribe is open to working with other tribes.

“This is the aboriginal land of the Spokanes, but everybody came here to trade and fish,” he said. “There is interest in collaboration among the tribes.”

Cameron said the desire to open a bidding process was prompted earlier this year when the Spokane Tribe expressed interest in leasing the parking lot. In a June letter to Mayor Mary Verner, tribal leaders said they were interested in the lot on the north bank for a “living history center” and the former downtown YMCA, which the city bought earlier this year, for tribal programs. The tribe later decided not to pursue the Y.

Ernst said the tribe wants to build a “dynamic living history facility, not just a building with a bunch of artifacts.” Its proposal likely will include a restaurant that serves tribal cuisine such as salmon, plus meeting rooms and space for dancing and singing.

If the tribe’s bid is selected, Ernst said, ground could be broken in about a year.

“We’re prepared to move aggressively,” he said.

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