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Shawn Vestal: Finally, Ridpath renovation may be a reality, part of ‘generational transformation’ of downtown

Say what you will about the frustrations of road construction: It’s another signal among many that downtown Spokane is poised to take a leap forward.

The last couple of years have been booming in the city center, everywhere you look. From expanding public access along the river, to remaking Riverfront Park, to the growing roster of new businesses and projects. From community court at the downtown library, to new approaches to homelessness, to a rich flourishing in the arts. From the Grand Hotel to the Tradewinds.

Put simply: Downtown Spokane is in the midst of a massive, generational transformation, a series of changes that will redefine it for years to come.

Now there’s renewed reason to hope for transformation at the Ridpath Hotel, too. Developer Ron Wells says he has made a deal to buy the final units of the hotel tower and move forward with his plan to develop an apartment complex there, with luxury suites on top and a street-level restaurant.

Neither Wells nor the bankrupt seller of the tower units, Integrated Financial Services of Las Vegas, would say much about the agreement, citing a confidentiality deal. But they said the sale is scheduled to close in January or February. If it goes through, it will mean that Wells and his partners have at last secured ownership of all the condominium units in the hotel, after a yearslong battle to do so.

“We think we’ve got all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed this time on going to the finish line,” Wells said.

Wells’ plans include a combination of traditional apartments and “micro-apartments” that are small and inexpensive. He hopes to begin work on the project next year after closing on the sale. He also said that a restaurant has agreed to move into former Silver Grill space in the ground floor of the Ridpath, with an eye toward opening by the spring with an expanded outdoor seating area. Work on remodeling the space should begin within weeks, he said, though no permits have been filed.

If the Ridpath rises again, after eight years of dormancy, it will join a long list of exciting projects downtown. When the Grand Hotel opened in the summer of 2015, it drew a lot of business activity into its orbit, helping to increase the density and concentrated activity downtown. There are major commercial and residential projects on the way, notably an expansion on the east end of River Park Square and the renovation of the Macy’s building that is being undertaken by Centennial Properties (a Cowles company, as is the one that pays me.)

Our fancy restaurants are off the charts. The STA Plaza is being renovated. The gateways into and out of the city are being spiffed up. And infrastructure work – boring old infrastructure – is refashioning public spaces in important and useful ways. Look at how the new parking arrangement on West Main Avenue has changed the nature of that block from a four-lane throughway to the stop-and-walk neighborhood it clearly has evolved into being.

The current mess of torn-up streets downtown – part of a roadwork season that’s putting tens of millions of dollars into the economy and employing hundreds of people – will spill into the next couple of years as the city remakes Spokane Falls Boulevard, putting in a new stormwater tank, extending Riverfront Park and bringing the Gorge Trail nearer to completion. It’s an exciting vision, but it won’t be painless getting there.

Speaking of not painless, Wells has traveled a thorny road with the Ridpath. He first announced his plans for the hotel in January 2013, as he was beginning to buy units in the hotel. But his efforts have been stymied as a result of the byzantine ownership structure of the hotel, which was divided into more than 20 condo units by one of the former owners, Greg Jeffreys.

Jeffreys is now serving a prison term for a variety of real-estate frauds, and his Ridpath deals left investors empty-handed, created a wake of legal action and bankruptcies, and created a tangled knot of other issues going forward.

Wells’ firm, Ridpath Apartments LLC, has purchased the majority of the voting units in the hotel, but the main tower floors were tied up in a bankruptcy proceeding. Wells and another bidder spent more than a year trying to complete a purchase, with each bidding more than $3 million, but those agreements fell apart earlier this year, and IFA put the units back on the market in May.

Wells has taken on a titanic task. He should get a medal for even trying, and if he succeeds the project has the potential to add something special to Spokane by reviving a landmark. Let’s hope the Ridpath and the roadwork have something in common – an investment of time, money and frustration with a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

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


 

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