CenterPlace celebrates year number five

THURSDAY, OCT. 21, 2010

Lee Martin, left, and Vern Knudsen laugh with art teacher Shirley Bird Wright, right, during a watercolor class at the Spokane Valley Senior Center at CenterPlace Oct. 14.  (Jesse Tinsley)
Lee Martin, left, and Vern Knudsen laugh with art teacher Shirley Bird Wright, right, during a watercolor class at the Spokane Valley Senior Center at CenterPlace Oct. 14. (Jesse Tinsley)

Event venue seeks to boost business, popularity

It began as one of those “wouldn’t it be nice” dreams that surfaced in the mid-’90s, years before the city of Spokane Valley incorporated. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Valley had its own event center?

Today the city will be celebrating the fifth anniversary of the opening of the CenterPlace Regional Event Center at Mirabeau Park with an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. The 54,000-square-foot facility includes an auditorium and rooms of all sizes. “We’ve come a long way in five years,” said Spokane Valley parks and recreation director Mike Stone.

But despite the hundreds of events every year and the recent rating as the “Best Event Facility” for 2010 by Catalyst Magazine, CenterPlace remains a hidden gem. “We still have people walk into the building and say, ‘I never knew this was here,’ ” said Stone. “I still think we have a slight identity crisis.”

CenterPlace was first envisioned by then Valley Rotary President Greg Bever and the late Denny Ashlock. They formed a nonprofit organization to turn the former Walk in the Wild Zoo land into a community center and park. Before anything could be built they had to put in roads and sewer, get permission to add a railroad crossing, add trailheads to the Centennial Trail and build the Evergreen-Interstate 90 interchange. Ashlock died in 1997, and Bever led the charge to continue the project.

Mirabeau Point Park was completed and construction had begun on CenterPlace by the time the nonprofit’s trustees disbanded in 2004 and handed over the reins to the city.

Bever is thrilled by how the area has turned out and appreciates that the city went ahead with the construction of a playground accessible to children with disabilities. “They used our master plan,” he said. “That facility just turned out phenomenal. That’s been really rewarding for all the trustees.”

It’s satisfying to see that the concept he and others had worked, Bever said. “I’m just really excited that people have embraced it the way they have,” he said. “It became a beautiful meeting place. It became the gathering place of the Valley. I think it has fulfilled our expectations.”

The building was funded by a Spokane Public Facilities District bond passed by voters in 2002 that included money for a new convention center in downtown Spokane and improvements to the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center.

Today CenterPlace hosts banquets, meetings, dances, seminars, weddings and graduations. It has also played host to more unique events like a hair-cutting and dye workshop and a speed-dating event. Part of the annual Valleyfest celebration is held there every year.

The Spokane Valley Senior Center has blossomed in the east wing of the building, adding programs and members. The previous center was in a building constructed on top of an old landfill. The building was in poor shape and was literally sinking.

The center now has a library, fitness programs and an arts and crafts room. None of that would have been possible without additional floor space. “They have probably triple what they had before,” Stone said.

The senior center had about 750 members when it moved. Active members now top 900. “It has been steadily increasing since they moved to CenterPlace,” he said.

Even though it’s only the fifth anniversary of the building, Stone said it was an occasion worth noting. “In parks and recreation we’re all about leisure and fun,” he said.

Today’s open house is a great excuse to showcase CenterPlace’s new in-house catering operation, which will be providing refreshments. Some booths will be set up in the Great Room and people can tour the facility. “It’s pretty low key,” he said.

Of course, Stone is also hoping some of the visitors will discover that CenterPlace is the perfect venue for an upcoming event. “The bottom line is, we need more events,” Stone said. The building is subsidized by the city, only covering about 65 percent of annual expenses. Stone hopes to improve that number before the building’s 10th anniversary rolls around. “We have a ways to go,” he said. “That being said, the number of events continues to increase.”

Stone said he will continue to focus on providing stellar customer service and ongoing training for staff. “We would like to see ourselves have a little more emphasis in the corporate business world in the next five years,” he said. “I don’t see a lot of dramatic changes.”

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