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Spokane city leaders back plan to make downtown more inviting

A collection of business, government and community representatives gathered in Spokane City Hall’s Chase Gallery on Friday morning to show their support for an initiative to make downtown “safer and more inviting for commerce, tourism, recreation and living.”

Alongside mentions of adding more police officers to patrol downtown and efforts to “beautify” downtown, City Council President Ben Stuckart said new laws giving enhanced enforcement powers to police, passing additional human services funding and revitalizing Riverfront Park were integral to their initiative.

“We’re all on the same page and we’re all on the same team,” Stuckart said. “We need to take numerous steps to address the issues. One law isn’t going to make or break downtown.”

Those gathered spoke primarily of nuisance problems downtown but said they sought to strike a “balance” between providing outreach and support for those in need and “accountability for those who choose not to abide by our laws.”

The City Council will also give $7,000 to an estimated $25,000 public relations effort to decrease the number of panhandlers by persuading people to donate to homeless shelters and food banks rather than handing over a spare dollar to someone on the street.

Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said he hoped the campaign would make people realize the “devastation that you provide” when giving panhandlers cash.

Richard was quick to point out that the “root challenge” facing the city’s core was “not uncommon to any community on this planet, quite frankly.

“It starts with changing our own behavior,” Richard said.

Andy Dinnison, who owns two businesses and has worked downtown for 26 years, echoed this sentiment and challenged everyone to “take a stand.”

“It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s your problem,” he said. “If we all just push back a little and say, ‘That’s not what we want our town to be,’ I think it’ll be a better place.”

John Waite, who owns Merlyn’s game store, said he was glad to see the broad-based effort was working with social and mental health programs.

“I love downtown. I live downtown. I’m a child of downtown,” he said. “I’m committed to downtown. I’m going to be there, my businesses are going to be there, my buildings are going to be there for the rest of my life. I’m really excited to see this effort and I hope everyone gets behind it.”

Others assembled behind Stuckart were state Sen. Andy Billig; council members Mike Allen, Mike Fagan, Steve Salvatori, Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref; police Capt. Keith Cummings; Doug Durham, a vice president at Wells Fargo; and Marilee Roloff, president of Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.

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