What do westbound drivers see when they exit Interstate 90 at Division Street?
A truck rental lot, a gas station, Dick’s Hamburgers and a vacant lot studded with rebar and wrapped in chain link.
And at Lincoln Street?
The ugly backside of the Trade Winds Motor Inn.
The panorama at Maple Street is better, welcoming even for westbound drivers looking for drive-through coffee, but still no urban gem.
Eastbound drivers who get a beautiful view of the city from atop Sunset Hill descend to a Maple off-ramp where the odds are fairly good they will mistakenly drive right back up the on-ramp one block to the east or, by taking a left, find themselves crossing the Maple Street Bridge on the way to … not downtown.
These are the gateways through which most visitors first approach the city of Spokane. The vibrant core is a few blocks away, but drivers pulling off the interstate might not know that, or be able to find it if they did.
Finally, longtime efforts to change that are gaining traction, but they need a push.
The Downtown Spokane Partnership has obtained a $242,000 Spokane Regional Transportation Commission grant to develop common design elements for signage that would guide visitors to the downtown core and other attractions.
Unfortunately, a bid for additional support from the Community Economic Development Board was unsuccessful.
More significantly, key properties near two of the exits might be available for redevelopment.
The owner of the vacant property at Third Avenue and Division has abandoned a hotel project interrupted by the recession, and put the land up for sale.
At Third and Lincoln, the Trade Winds has been closed, and its furnishings removed. New owners are considering their options, including demolition.
The city should provide the dynamite.
Although there is no money to buy the motel, it might be had in a swap for city-owned properties – if officials can put together a portfolio of equivalent value. The Trade Winds is ugly, but the location is anything but. Same with the lot at Division.
The city can pay only the appraised value, which might be substantially below what the owners demand.
And, once in hand, what would the city do with them to enhance the visitor’s experience? Build a visitors center? A cop shop? Both, or something else entirely?
City officials and business owners along the I-90 corridor will meet next month to consider the options. The Washington State Department of Transportation, which owns the land beneath the interstate, will be a partner.
With an expanded Convention Center bringing still more visitors to Spokane when completed, a cohesive approach to making a better first impression will be more important than ever.
There finally seems to be a sense of urgency.
Pass the dynamite.