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Guest opinion: It’s time to spiff up Riverfront Park

The city of Spokane has proposed a refinancing plan that would invest in streets and parks by running two separate measures likely to be in front of voters this November. Viewed as a whole, they would pay for both ongoing street improvements and a reinvigorated Riverfront Park at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Currently, city residents pay 91 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value toward the repayment of three street and park bond issues. This new proposal, with its strategic refinancing, keeps the individual taxpayer share the same and would generate $60 million for reinvestment in Riverfront Park and $25 million annually for street improvements.

An integral part of this investment is the Riverfront Park Master Plan. It is the culmination of a two-year process that has engaged more than 1,000 citizens.

In the master plan are many proposals to upgrade the park and enhance the Riverfront Park experience. Improvements to the park would include a new way to use the Pavilion, giving more people reason to come into the park. This enhanced park would offer greater safety with a widened pedestrian promenade running north and south through the park. The promenade would improve sightlines through and into the park, as well as offering better connections to the center of the park, the Pavilion and the river. Newly designed, more strategic public plazas within the park would better accommodate large events that can handle the wear and tear of thousands of visitors and vendors.

The plan includes a greater number of grassy meadows for relaxation and appreciation of the park’s stunning natural setting. And with more lights and security features, Riverfront Park will be a place families can enjoy both during the day and at night.

Attractions like Riverfront Park are economic generators. Those who experienced Expo ’74 appreciate this fact. Those who work to sell Spokane today know this is still as true now as it was then. Riverfront Park is Spokane’s No. 1 tourist attraction, drawing 2.2 million visitors a year. Increased tourism will lead directly to an increased tax base, creating more dollars to reinvest in our fire department, schools, libraries and park system citywide.

Forty years ago, the area surrounding Riverfront Park looked quite a bit different. The Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena replaced the Spokane Coliseum, affectionately remembered as the Boone Street Barn. The INB Performing Arts Center – then known as the Opera House – and Convention Center have since come into their own. City Hall was a department store and Interstate 90 was just 7 years old.

Spokane residents did not live downtown; in fact, they rarely came downtown other than to work. The idea of mixed-use urban living, epitomized by Kendall Yards, was still a very distant idea.

We have changed how we live since 1974. We now work, shop, dine, cycle, live and recreate in our downtown. Riverfront Park is our living heritage, connecting Spokane’s historical roots and the city’s natural beauty with its present culture.

Although we have changed as a city, Riverfront Park has not. There has been no significant parkwide capital investment in Riverfront Park since Expo ’74. While the park and its setting possess a timeless beauty, many of the facilities are outdated and have fallen into disrepair and, in some cases, been forced to close. With decaying infrastructure including bridges, power, mechanical and irrigation systems, the park is more than showing its age. The Park Board is determined to reverse the decay.

A new Riverfront Park would build on the quality and appeal of the new Huntington Park, located just north of City Hall. A new park would tell the stories and honor our shared history. This is a history that includes Expo ’74, the railroads and the area’s original inhabitants. The area around Riverfront Park and the Spokane Falls historically was the gathering place for the Interior Salish Plateau tribal people. It is sacred space. A new park would build on this important history with an eye to the future.

The park has served us well these past 40 years and has been central to our collective memories. Now it is time to look ahead and create new memories for the next 40 years.

Randy Cameron is president of the Spokane Park Board. Chris Wright is chairman of the Park Board’s Riverfront Park Committee.

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