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East Sprague gets Spokane nod for improvements from focused investment

The littered side streets, abandoned homes and aging storefronts that populate parts of the East Sprague corridor will be the proving ground for a city plan to funnel improvement dollars in a hyperlocal way.

Though it remains to be seen whether the strategy will yield the same transformation seen along South Perry in recent years, plan pitchman and Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart sees great results ahead as a result of the targeted investment, totaling up to $5 million.

“If we can show that this makes a difference – which I believe it will, that’s why we’ve been working so hard on it – then we keep pushing this forward every two to three years in the city of Spokane,” Stuckart said.

Thursday’s announcement ended a selection process that began in the spring, when Stuckart, colleague Amber Waldref and others began sifting through economic and demographic data to determine which sections of Spokane were prime candidates for a concentrated stream of public money.

The idea is to pool separate funding streams that have long been used piecemeal around town and focus them on one neighborhood.

While the West Broadway corridor also scored highly using the city’s metrics, it was the passion of business and neighborhood leaders in the East Sprague area that shored up the selection, Stuckart and Waldref said.

“We know that there’s momentum in the east University District,” Waldref said.

Part of that push has come from the East Spokane Business Association, a group that meets weekly in the basement of a bank building dating to 1907. That brick structure now houses Strong Solutions, a certified seller of Apple products run by Jack Strong, who also serves as the business association’s president.

Strong said the city’s investment plans would complement work already undertaken by the association to make the corridor a more pedestrian- and commercial-friendly neighborhood. East Sprague Avenue was recently restriped, shrinking the number of lanes to two and adding a central turn lane that eases deliveries for trucks and has significantly reduced traffic speed in front of shops.

The comprehensive approach to investment envisioned for the neighborhood by Stuckart and Waldref could include adding trees and medians along Sprague, repaving problem areas and planting stormwater-retaining plants to halt erosion. But even a quick jaunt around the surrounding blocks reveals the scope in City Council thinking about how the pot of money might be used.

“You can see all the garbage here,” Stuckart said Thursday on a tour of the neighborhood, pointing to empty soda and liquor bottles lining the streets intersecting with Sprague near the chain-linked exteriors of businesses. “There are no garbage cans.”

Money from the targeted investment could bring bins to these streets, which would be picked up with other garbage left out for collection, Stuckart said.

On other blocks, vacant homes are the issue. The targeting program could free up money to rehab houses owned by the city or loan to private owners. They’d be back on the market much quicker than occurs currently, Waldref said.

“So we can see on one block, potentially, four or five homes that are worked on,” she said. “We think that that will have a much larger effect on that block than just doing one on the block.”

Ground will be broken on the first projects in 2015.

With multiple city departments on board and neighborhood councils lining up with their wish lists, the City Council president thinks it’s only a matter of time before the concentrated approach yields dividends along the East Sprague corridor and elsewhere.

“I vow to work my butt off for the next two years on this neighborhood,” Stuckart said.

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