Mention East Sprague and most everyone has some sort of comment to make, and it’s usually not a good one. To those people Boris Borisov has one thing to say: Why don’t you come out here and see what’s going on?
“It has changed a lot,” said Borisov, program officer with neighborhood revitalization organization Impact Capital. “We have planters and bike racks. We have campaigns for cleanliness and safety. We have new street banners. It’s not at all like it used to be.”
Renamed the International District, the area on Sprague between Helena and Crestline has sprouted a number of new businesses including One World Spokane organic café, The Flying Pig, and Pedals to People as it remained home to some of the oldest businesses in town, like the Checkerboard Tavern.
Tonight at a reception in Walla Walla, the International District and the East Spokane Business Association Partnership are expected to receive an award for “Outstanding Partnership” issued by the Washington State Main Street Program.
“It’s a great honor for us and it’s a great honor for the city of Spokane,” said Borisov, who’s quick to share the credit with all the International District organizations. “There is a very strong business association here. They have matured over the years and they are really tackling the issues.”
At the same reception, the Greater Hillyard-Northeast Planning Alliance will receive the Main Street Award for “Outstanding Special Project.” The Bemiss, Hillyard and Whitman neighborhoods formed the alliance so that they could pool their resources and better pursue issues that pertained to all three. Last July, the alliance published a joint community plan featuring 10 strategy areas for revitalization, such as transportation, safety, housing and business retention and development.
“We are delighted to present this award to GHNEPA for the joint neighborhoods’ long range planning effort,” wrote Sarah Hansen, Washington Main Street coordinator, in a statement. “We are so impressed with the community’s willingness to work together and their recognition that neighborhoods and communities don’t function in isolation.”
Like GHNEPA, the International District has created a Neighborhood Action Plan, which was published last September. Borisov said the neighborhood’s historic buildings give it a unique sense of place, and that the neighborhood plans to recruit diverse businesses for the commercial district.
“We have removed graffiti and we have a neighborhood watch zone where businesses look out for one another,” said Borisov.
Borisov said one of the biggest challenges was where to begin with the action plan.
“There were many previous planning areas and ideas, so where do you start and make sure you don’t miss something that’s very important to the neighborhood?” said Borisov. “We wanted to make a tangible, doable plan at the same time as we were building the grass roots and making sure it’s a sustainable plan.”
That’s what caught the attention of the Washington Main Street program.
“We are thrilled to present this award to the partners of the Spokane International District who have demonstrated how working together on a comprehensive revitalization strategy is helping the district make a dramatic comeback,” wrote Hansen in the announcement.
The awards make both Hillyard and the International District showcases of solid neighborhood development, a process that can be cumbersome, slow moving and sometimes frustrating. Getting a statewide award is a nod to all the volunteers and neighbors who put in countless hours at meetings and cleanup parties in both neighborhoods over the past decades.
“I think I can speak for everyone involved and say it validates your work,” said Borisov. “It shows you that you are going in the right direction. An award pumps you up – it can be an excellent momentum builder.”