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Landers: River access should be natural part of project

The voter-approved $65 million project to expand the Spokane Convention Center involves the  Centennial Trail and shoreline improvements. Designs are set to be approved in 2013.</p>
The voter-approved $65 million project to expand the Spokane Convention Center involves the Centennial Trail and shoreline improvements. Designs are set to be approved in 2013.

The Spokane River shouldn’t have to speak up for itself.

Like a hero who saves the day before 500,000 onlookers, the river ought to naturally have our attention and appreciation.

It’s a priceless gift that works 24/7 in our favor for wildlife and recreation, development and industry.

A first-class river and waterfalls in our midst give Spokane quality-of-life stature among cities around the world.

Yet Spokane can’t seem to get a grip on its value.

An important case in point slips into the spotlight today as we learn how the taxpayer-funded Spokane Convention Center expansion could eliminate a critical public access for river users at Division Street.

Design proposals developed by three contractor teams for the Spokane Convention Center Completion Project are being revealed to the public today in an open house, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., at the Convention Center, second floor (enter across from lobby of INB Performing Arts Center).

Please go see for yourself.

Despite continual participation by Spokane River and water trail advocates, none of these designs apparently maintains boater access to the river at Division Street Bridge.

Voters approved $62 million involving the expansion with the promise that we’d get more access to the river.

But it looks as though the public will get less.

The Spokane Public Facilities District wooed the city and river stakeholders with promises the project would open doors to the Centennial Trail and the river.

But it appears that at least one door could slam shut permanently.

Even in its undeveloped state, the area at the south end of the Division Bridge has been safely used for years by boaters outside of spring runoff season. They’ve pulled out at the bridge and loaded their boats in the parking lot of C.I. Shenanigan’s, a defunct restaurant set to be demolished for the convention center expansion.

Minimal work is needed to improve the access site under the bridge. The critical factor is that vehicles must have access to a few parking spaces so rafts, canoes or kayaks can be hauled away. This is one of only three access points downstream from the seasonal put-in below Upriver Dam.

The Division bridge access affords Gonzaga University student programs the opportunity to do short floats from the new McKinstry access south of the campus.

Even from the narrowest view, it’s in the best interest of the Spokane Convention Center to take full advantage of its intimate proximity to a world-class urban river.

For example, some potential convention groups will be attracted to the prospect of a Spokane River paddling outfitter hosting their members and dropping them off at an access point just a few hundred yards from the Convention Center – and the on-site hotels.

Outfitters such as ROW Adventures and the Spokane Parks outdoors program are set up to do just that. A website photo of guests bringing kayaks up from the river to the Convention Center would say volumes about the site.

But the main point is that public access to the river is priceless.

It’s critical to using, appreciating and gaining public value from the river, and there’s precious little of it.

SPFD officials have given a few excuses, suggesting the shoreline permit doesn’t address boat access and that a city ordinance prevents boats from coming under the Division Street Bridge.

These are easily resolvable concerns.

Even officials at Avista Utilities, which manages the hydropower project downstream from the bridge, have agreed all along that the Division Street river access is warranted and doable with seasonal restriction for boater safety.

The bottom line is that the Spokane Public Facilities district is supposed to be working for the public, hence its name.

The project is publically funded by taxpayers, so there should be no objection to spending some of it in the public interest.

Nothing in this project should be blocking river enthusiasts from the city’s most valuable natural asset.

If the Convention Center project doesn’t provide river access, it’s missing the boat.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email