I was disappointed by the Spokane Transit Authority board’s recent decision to delay the plaza renovation under pressure from downtown business groups. Greater Spokane Incorporated and the Downtown Business Partnership are clearly not concerned about the renovation itself but are trying to buy time to pressure STA to move the plaza out of downtown. In the best-case scenario, this delay will push back the renovation as well as planning for the Central City Line.
I often ride the bus with my kids to Mobius, River Park Square and other downtown businesses, and I feel frustrated that businesses are working to move transit out of the downtown core. But, more importantly, I am disappointed that downtown businesses do not seem to understand the role that good transit can and does play in developing a city’s business interests.
Businesses should be the first ones supporting renovation to the plaza, which will improve the look and feel of the downtown core. The new design will provide a place for bus patrons to wait indoors and reduce the loitering that business leaders report is a problem. New retail space will attract a fresh mix of people to the plaza, improving the vibrancy of downtown. The renovated plaza will better match the look of newer, surrounding buildings and give the downtown core a fresh face.
Businesses should also be working to move the Central City Line trolley forward. This is a prime example of a modern, sleek, innovative transit option that can transform our urban space. Trolleys will attract tourists, visitors, families and others who might not otherwise ride public transit on a regular basis. The new line will also invite further business development.
The American Public Transportation Association reports that $10 million of capital investment in public transit yields an average of $30 million in increased business sales. Cities as diverse as Salt Lake City, Boston, Dallas and Minneapolis have seen dramatic economic returns in employment, real estate, retail growth and home values following recent investments in public transit.
Improving public transit is also a key component in attracting young professionals to our city, which is necessary to our future prosperity. A majority of people in their 20s and 30s are reducing their car usage and opting for other transportation methods. In a recent Rockefeller Foundation survey, 54 percent of millennials said they would change cities for the sake of more and better transportation options, such as public transportation, car- and bike-sharing programs, and pedestrian and bike infrastructure.
Sixty-six percent said that transportation options are among their top three criteria when considering a new city. If we want to guarantee our city’s future success, we must invest in public transit.
Finally, the future of our downtown as a genuine residential area will depend on transit. Lack of middle-income and family housing downtown is a common complaint among young professionals and families. Our Central City Line will likely attract investment in apartments, condos and townhomes on the trolley line, as new transit has done in other cities. The success of Kendall Yards has demonstrated that there is abundant demand for mixed-income residences in mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods near the downtown core. Residents who want to live downtown are likely to enjoy a car-light or car-free lifestyle and need quality public transit to get to other neighborhoods. This includes students who will use the trolley to get to the U-District or Spokane Community College, retired people who want to maintain independence as they age, and families who rely on transit to get kids to school and activities. Having quality public transit with a growing residential population will also mitigate the need for new downtown parking.
Having a wide range of people living, working and doing business downtown at all hours of the day will bolster downtown’s vibrancy and safety. Permanent residents creating a real neighborhood in the downtown core will do wonders to increase business. Imagine a variety of people living downtown, walking to work, running out for a gallon of milk, walking their dogs or stopping for a cup of coffee at 10 p.m. These people will be keeping an eye out for their neighbors as well as spending money at our downtown businesses.
We can rest assured that keeping the plaza central and moving forward with the plaza renovation and the Central City Line will be good for business in Spokane. The STA’s current plans to improve transit will spur economic development, improve safety and be a catalyst for a more vibrant, prosperous, livable Spokane.