Urban living often is portrayed as a young person’s game, but at 52, John Waite is a pretty typical downtown Spokane resident.
Waite, the owner of Merlyn’s and Auntie’s Bookshop, lives on the same block as his comic and games shop. He’s got a few bars, a grocery store and a movie theater within a few hundred feet.
“I think I drive like a thousand miles a year,” he said.
In fact, the median age for someone living in the downtown core – bounded by Interstate 90 to the south, Division Street to the east, the Spokane River to the north and Maple Street to the west – is just over 50, according to 2015 Census estimates from the American Community Survey. For the entire city, it’s about 36.
Who else lives downtown? Twenty-somethings make up about 22 percent of residents, slightly higher than their proportion in the city. Nearly everyone rents their residence.
About 80 percent of households are not families, though that number includes non-married couples with no children. Only 13 percent of downtown residents are married.
Downtown residents are poorer, too: About 47 percent live below the poverty line, more than double the city’s rate of about 20 percent. The per capita income is just $19,036 compared to Spokane’s $24,662.
It’s an odd jumble of people at first glance, but one that starts to make sense with a deeper dive.
Downtown living is seen as desirable now, but about 10 or 15 years ago, that wasn’t the case, said Juliet Sinisterra, business development manager for the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
Early downtown apartment buildings were low-income housing projects catering toward seniors and people on fixed incomes, like the Cathedral Plaza apartments on West Sprague Avenue.
“We’ve had a lot of low-income (housing) historically, but that’s really starting to shift,” she said.
Downtown also is home to the House of Charity, the county’s largest homeless shelter. Between that and low-income housing projects, it’s not surprising downtown residents earn less, on average, than their counterparts in other neighborhoods.
When the downtown boundaries are expanded to include Browne’s Addition, Kendall Yards or the west part of the University District, the age demographics look similar but the poverty rates go down.
Interest in downtown is growing, and Sinisterra said that’s brought two big groups downtown: young people and empty nesters.
“The Gen Xers are the hole right now,” she said.
Some of that is supply-related. Apartments tend to be one- or two-bedroom: perfect for couples or roommates, but not ideal for families with a few kids and a dog.
Waite has lived downtown for eight years and said he’s seen interest in downtown living pick up.
He plans to renovate part of one of the buildings he owns into apartments that would be midrange in price, about $800 for a large one-bedroom, he said. Even though it’s just an idea for now, he gets questions about availability regularly, he said.
“I could rent them out tomorrow,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Merlyn’s in a photo caption.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter