May 21, 2014

Saranac Commons next step in downtown Spokane evolution

The Spokesman-Review
 
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Pat Coleman, a property manager for Jim Sheehan, stands Monday in a former garage at 19 W. Main Ave. during construction of spaces that will house a bakery, brewpub, restaurant and retail store.
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Downtown Spokane’s once-dingy east end has evolved into a collection of shops, eateries and hipster hangouts.

Another project from Spokane property owner Jim Sheehan, the Saranac Commons, will add to that mix.

Sheehan is investing an undisclosed amount into the building at 19 W. Main Ave., just east of his existing properties, the Saranac Public House and the Community Building.

The one-level brick building was erected in 1923 and was known as McPhail’s Garage. In recent years it was used as a warehouse for the Huppin’s electronics company.

For nearly a decade it’s been the home of Merlyn’s Fantasy Sci-Fi and Games, a comic book and game shop. Recently, Merlyn’s owner John Waite and Sheehan arranged a swap; Sheehan took over the 19 W. Main building and gave Waite the next building over, at 15 W. Main.

Sheehan, whose contributions to downtown also include owning the property used by the Main Market Co-op across the street, said he’s doing this project because “it’s good for the neighborhood here. It’s good for the downtown community.”

He said it’s also a way to help a number of qualified local business owners expand their options.

The Saranac Commons has five businesses moving in this summer. The opening dates likely will be staggered, said Pat Coleman, who works for Sheehan and is overseeing the project.

They include Sante restaurant operators Kate and Jeremy Hansen, who will open a wholesale-retail bakery, Common Crumb. Also moving in is Juliet Sinisterra, who operated retailer Sun People Dry Goods until the closing of the Spokane Public Market. She’ll open a similar retail shop in the Saranac Commons.

The other three businesses are brewpub Black Label; a Mediterranean-cuisine food shop; and a still-unnamed coffee shop.

Waite said he’s encouraged and inspired by Sheehan. “A lot of us live in this area and we believe in helping the community grow,” he said.

He added that the new convention center hotel being built by developer Walt Worthy nearby is a major addition to the east side of downtown.

From Auntie’s Bookstore east, a lot of that part of the city had been viewed unfavorably, Waite said.

“Walt’s project there will fill up that no-man’s land, and it will connect this area (on the Saranac block) with the rest of downtown,” Waite said.

Sheehan said the idea of converting the old garage into retail space came from Sinisterra, who urged him to look at the Melrose Market in Seattle for inspiration.

That project is a converted older warehouse situated north of the Pike Place Market. Sheehan visited it and came away loving the idea of leaving the interior of his building open, creating three common seating areas, with skylights overhead.

Hansen said Sinisterra persuaded him to open a bakery in the Saranac Commons. “I decided it was a great opportunity, because Jim is so generous to his tenants and because I’ll be working around a bunch of really great people,” he said.

He will use the new bakery to increase production of breads and pastries, something he couldn’t do easily in his restaurant in the Auntie’s building.

Hansen said he was also swayed by Worthy’s hotel project. “I’d have done (an expansion) anyway. It just really helped me decide. It would have been stupid to not move in,” he said.

As the east downtown area grows, business owners there have renewed discussions with city officials about improving parking and traffic flow. Waite said the new shops should hasten plans to convert Main into a two-way street and create diagonal parking along the street. Using angled parking would increase parking by roughly 33 percent, he said.

This story was edited to correct the ownership of the Main Market.

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