May 7, 2014 in City

Shawn Vestal: Body of evidence discredits prophets of downtown doom

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Within sight of the Clocktower, workmen guide pumped concrete into forms that will hold up the new hotel in downtown Spokane on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Boy, the city’s new sit-lie ordinance must really be working.

Because, after months and months of hearing only about our dire, deadly situation in the downtown area – after City Council meetings full of scolding and finger-wagging, after approximately 5 million airings on the local news of that one truly disturbing beating at the Satellite Diner, after expressions of doom about the potential that no one will ever do business downtown if so many shaggy types are allowed to sit or lie – there is an unmistakable blossoming of investment and energy downtown. Maybe it isn’t such a war zone after all.

Construction scaffolding has lined the sidewalks on several downtown blocks. Restaurants are opening or moving. The new Walt Worthy hotel is rising, exerting a magnetic force on other business projects in the surrounding blocks. Kendall Yards is going gangbusters. Last Friday, the astonishing new Huntington Park opened – offering such a great, heretofore unseen view of the river that it seems right out of the gate to be an iconic, definitive Spokane place. There are even spots to sit – or lie – there and take it all in.

Downtown seems to be … booming? Booming-ish? Surely, a naysayer could identify some downsides in the current Spokane moment – the Tradewinds, the massive hole in the earth at Division and Third. But if the yardstick is the past few years, then what’s going on in the center of our city these days seems like a renaissance. So much so that either all the strenuous efforts of just a few months ago have either worked very, very quickly – or they were overreactions to begin with.

Actually, the first signs of a downtown spring appeared almost immediately after the sit-lie ordinance was passed last December – passed after a parade of the law’s supporters raised the specter of an unlivable downtown, a downtown in which decent people could not feel safe, a downtown in which it was barely possible to attract retailers.

Just a couple of weeks later, an absurd and contradictory idea floated into the air: The demand for downtown retail space was so strong that we should turn Spokane’s downtown library into space for stores.

Mark Richard, the president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership and one of the folks who had supported the sit-lie ordinance just the previous month, said that downtown retail space was so “tapped out” that he had actually raised this idea with the new library director. Richard told the Inlander at the time that the number of potential retailers jockeying to come downtown so exceeded the space that Spokane has actually lost major retailers, including H&M. Downtown was such a hot spot that businesses were literally being turned away.

Richard thought the library had an opportunity to do something “spectacular for the community” – sell that prime spot and go somewhere cheaper and smaller. Somehow, this idea did not take hold. But the downtown resurgence was already well underway; Worthy’s hotel, tied into the Convention Center, was going up slowly all through the winter.

That still-unnamed project – the Hotel TBD? – will definitely change the downtown economy and its visual landscape. If the artists’ renderings are accurate, we’ll be looking at something more along the lines of the Davenport Tower than the stately Davenport. Something architecturally complacent. Still, it’s hard not to see virtually any project as an improvement over yet another asphalt pond in the downtown area, even if it was one of the nicest asphalt ponds downtown.

The hammers are swinging on the block across from Auntie’s, and then over a couple of blocks east, too, at Howard Street and Main Avenue. Across from the Davenport Hotel, there’s construction and bustle as well – new restaurants and apartments in what I like to remember as the Travos building. And Ron Wells and company are trying to heave the Ridpath back from the brink, as an apartment building.

And that’s to say nothing of the east end of Main, and South Perry, and the Garland District. And that’s to say nothing of the ambitious and creative plans to finance a major facelift at Riverfront Park. And that’s to say nothing of the seeming surge in creative enterprises across the city. And that’s to say nothing of the growing number of the young and hip who are doing more than simply complaining. And that’s to say nothing of the many businesses and people downtown who have been laying the groundwork.

It’s even been sunny lately. Is it just me, or is this a pretty great time to live in our city?

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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