The earth may have been restored over a decades-vacant parking lot on the outskirts of Riverfront Park, but the city’s not done with it yet.
After a botched effort to build a climbing gym on what is commonly known as the “Bosch lot” – a gravel parking plot just north of the Post Street Bridge – city officials are now eyeing a realignment of Bridge Avenue that would run under a three-story garage. The new structure would retain the Post Street span as a one-way corridor for car traffic out of downtown.
The project is one of several public investments planned in Mayor David Condon’s final two years in office, developed in concert with the City Council.
“The mayor had this idea,” said Rick Romero, the city’s former utilities director, showing off the design in a city hall conference room this week. “I don’t know why we didn’t jump on it sooner.”
Crews finished work this fall on an 800,000 gallon stormwater tank that is now buried below the site, trapping runoff during heavy rains and snowmelt to prevent untreated sewage flowing into the Spokane River.
In total, the council plans to set aside $51.9 million for public improvements that include street paving, housing for the homeless and the continued purchase of vehicles for the city’s police and firefighters through 2019. Those investments are possible because of the better-than-expected economic recovery in town, including sales tax increases outpacing the Washington state average and healthy taxes collected from real estate sales.
The allocation will be part of the planned adoption of next year’s budget, scheduled for Monday night’s City Council meeting.
The final cost of a Bosch lot garage project isn’t known, and the city officials stress that plans for a parking structure and proposed trail features on the current site of Bridge Avenue are preliminary. The idea is one of several concepts floated for the property snatched up by the city through eminent domain in the years after Expo ’74 as parkland.
From gym to garage
Earlier this year, city officials gushed about the possibility of a climbing gym rising above the northwest edge of Riverfront Park.
But public response to the plan, which would have required a transfer of ownership of the land through a sale or lease to a private entity, caused planners to back away from the idea this fall.
Romero acknowledged the climbing gym concept was teased before all the details were ready.
“In the first go-around with Bosch, we got very excited and perhaps we got ahead of ourselves,” Romero said. “We thought maybe we’re not looking at this quite as holistically as we ought to be.”
In addition to the parking structure, the plans include a destination trailhead for the Centennial Trail that could include amenities such as a BMX bike or skate park, said Leroy Eadie, director of the parks department, in a presentation to City Council members late last month.
The addition of parklike amenities would allow the city to make the argument the land is being used as it was originally intended when purchased from Donald and Carol Bosch in 1975, through a condemnation process that included a grant from what is now known as the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office. The grant came with stipulations the land be used for public recreation, which caused some of the issues with the private climbing wall proposal.
A city law authorizing the sale called for the site to be used “for Central Riverfront Park development purposes.” The land housed a service station owned by the Bosches when it was purchased in 1975. For decades, it was used as a surface parking lot mostly for parking city vehicles.
Pairing park features with a garage also meets one of the long-standing goals to support the park, Eadie said.
“The amenity you get here is you’re going to have trailhead parking, which we’re in need of,” Eadie said. The 2014 master plan for the redevelopment of the park includes multiple mentions of additional parking needed to support the park.
The need for more parking to serve the amenities in Riverfront Park dates back to the original plan for the attraction. A planning document approved in May 1974 lists an “occasional parking facility” as essential to the river’s north bank, but doesn’t specify the former service center lot as a potential site for parking.
The lot doesn’t appear in many of the historical documents calling for expansion of Riverfront Park following the world’s fair.
A 1976 economic and planning study prepared by the firm edcon ends its layout at what was then a Black Angus Steakhouse, now the site of Anthony’s seafood restaurant. Before a climbing gym was planned, the site was floated as the potential location of a cultural center owned and operated by the Spokane Tribe of Indians, who’ve been given the opportunity to develop what was previously called Canada Island in the center of the park. The tribe also was interested in establishing a cultural center at the Anthony’s site.
Funding for the garage project would come out of $7.1 million the council plans to set aside over the final years of Condon’s term. That money also would be used for other improvements, including the finishing of a roughly 3-mile trail linking downtown and the Peaceful Valley neighborhood to Kendall Yards across the Sandifur Bridge.
The city also is looking at dedicating other portions of the $51.9 million toward building a youth sports complex on the northern edge of the park near the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, in concert with the Spokane Public Facilities District, and adding amenities to the planned plaza above the stormwater tank under construction near the downtown Spokane Public Library.
The city is not currently seeking any private partnerships for the garage, despite the proximity of several businesses and the planned $60 million condominium development envisioned by Larry Stone.
“We going to do as much of it as we can with these dollars,” Romero said. “The plan is to do it all publicly if we can.”
Any parking revenue from the site would stay within the parks department, city officials said. The city is exploring creating an enterprise fund around Riverfront Park that would keep any money earned within the newly redesigned, 100-acre downtown attraction dedicated to the park.
If the city moves forward with developing the lot as envisioned, the autonomous Park Board would be asked to dedicate $1.5 million to the trailhead and garage project. Chris Wright, president of the park board, said the panel had reviewed some early concepts for the garage but still had a lot of questions about logistics.
“After the first plans for the Bosch lot, we decided to go back to the drawing board,” Wright said. “This is the drawing board. We told people we were going to be a little more thoughtful about this area.”
One area that will require more thought is what to do with the narrow, aging span that is the Post Street bridge.
What to do with Post
Drawings being shown around City Hall depict a plan that keeps one lane of traffic flowing north on the Post Street bridge, a road Condon said was necessary to relieve potential downtown congestion on Monroe Street.
City officials say the current bridge, which turned 100 this year, needs to be replaced.
“There’s a need to have traffic there,” Condon said. “We need to make sure that traffic that is heading westbound on Spokane Falls Boulevard is not clogging near the Lincoln memorial.”
Officials have debated whether a future Post Street bridge should be only for pedestrians since the 1980s, when planners and engineers floated a four-lane arterial spanning Lincoln Street on the west side of City Hall. The city needs a span over the river in the location because a main sewer line uses the bridge.
But the Lincoln bridge project was scrapped due to public outcry about losing access to the lower falls. Keeping one lane of car traffic on Post after it’s rebuilt, which is scheduled to begin late in 2018 and finish in 2021, is part of a compromise that will promote pedestrian traffic, Romero said.
Jim Frank, president of the Greenstone Corp. that developed the urban Kendall Yards neighborhood west of Monroe Street, said keeping vehicle traffic on Post Street would be a mistake.
“It’s a really wonderful location and to sacrifice the pedestrian portion of it, for a tiny handful of car drips, it seems to me short-sighted,” Frank said.
A 2016 traffic study by the city of Spokane shows about 2,100 cars make the trip across the Post Street Bridge each day, which has been narrowed to one lane of traffic with a bike lane and sidewalks on either side.
By comparison, the four-lane Monroe Street Bridge handles 19,700 cars per day, and the Maple Street Bridge supports 40,600 vehicles daily.
Stone, the developer of the planned condominiums, did not return a call for comment on the proposed garage or Post Street bridge plans. Mad Anthony’s, the Bellevue-based firm that owns the Anthony’s restaurant, also didn’t respond to a request for comment on the traffic changes.
Loreen McFaul, executive director of the preservation group Friends of the Centennial Trail, said the organization prefers the trail running on the west side of the bridge, with potential bumpouts to overlook the falls on either side. The public would then have access to views similar to the dining area of Anthony’s overlooking the river, which often draws the attention of national media visiting Spokane.
“That’s the ESPN money shot, right?” McFaul said.
The organization isn’t concerned about whether vehicle traffic would continue on the bridge, McFaul said.
“We leave that to those experts. Our focus is on the trail,” she said.
City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, a former board member of the Friends of the Centennial Trail, said it was important that whatever layout is chosen for the bridge and intersection be “carefully planned” and might need to include a stoplight to prevent collisions with people crossing the bridge on foot or by bicycle.
“It’s still early,” Kinnear said. “Everything’s on the table at this point.”