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Shawn Vestal: 31 ideas to make downtown Spokane even better

In recent years, there’s been a lot of deservedly happy talk about what’s been added downtown.

From Huntington Park to the Grand Hotel, from West Main to East Sprague, Spokane’s core has been in a period of growth and revitalization, with new construction, businesses and infrastructure improvements everywhere.

But what’s missing? What does downtown Spokane still need to become great? A museum? A ballpark? Another Macklemore video?

I asked a variety of local people with a stake in downtown life what they thought, and here’s a wish list based on their responses:

Add a stadium

Mayor David Condon: “Spokane is the region’s downtown with great shopping, dining and entertainment. The community has overwhelming supported activities hosted in and around downtown, and the city would benefit from another outdoor regional event venue, such as a stadium, to complement the indoor spaces that straddle both sides of Riverfront Park.”

Switch to two-way streets

John Waite, owner of Auntie’s Bookstore and Merylyn’s Comics and Games: “I think we have shown that a slower and more pedestrian friendly Main Street will be good for business and good for the community. It just needs someone at City Hall to push this plan. I think we are close to being able to show that they are great for business, both big and small.”

Fill in the gaps

Kris Dinnison, co-owner of Atticus and Boo Radley’s: “I’d like to see downtown continue to become more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. For me that would mean more street-level businesses, more public art, landscaping, and other things that enhance the pedestrian experience around the downtown core. It would also mean fewer stretches of surface parking lots that chop up the different sections of downtown, making it less interesting and hospitable to walkers. For instance, when I send people from Atticus down to West Main, I have to tell them once they’re past Auntie’s there are basically two long city blocks of parking lots and not much else before they hit the cool block. That’s a deterrent to walking there. We need to create reasons to walk those two blocks.”

Zip across the river

Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership: “With all of the incredible amenities being added to Riverfront Park, what is lacking in the plan at the moment is something for the adventurer in all of us – something that provides a good, old-fashioned shot of adrenalin. By marrying up our spectacular river with an urban zip line course in or near the park, Downtown Spokane would become ‘the place’ for locals all ages as well as visitors from around the Northwest.”

Celebrate rail history

Ryan Oelrich, chairman of the Spokane Homeless Coalition and founder of Spokane Sidewalk Games: “Downtown Spokane was built on a train yard and has trains running through it. With the exception of Frank’s Diner, we don’t celebrate the role trains have played in shaping our fine city or tie them into our Spokane narrative. Let’s place refurbished train cars in downtown to serve as attractions, event space, and education pieces to help tell our Spokane story. … I’d love to start a historical ‘tour train’ that would transport visitors around downtown to historical points of interest and to some of our most unique shops and eateries.”

Refine the skywalks

Anthony Gill, who writes the urban planning blog Spokane Rising: “I think we desperately need a Skywalk and Pedestrian Master Plan for Downtown Spokane. Many of our downtown buildings were built with skywalks and second-floor retail in mind, but as street-level activity becomes more important and shopping patterns shift, we need to be proactive and strategic about our planning for these tools. I’m not saying we need to go and rip out all of the skywalks. But we should develop a long-term vision for what the skywalk system––or the whole downtown pedestrian system––should look like.”

A downtown department store

This was also John Waite’s suggestion, along with several people who responded to a post on Facebook. Here is Waite’s reasoning: “An Urban Target or some sort of larger shopping opportunity would be nice. I’ve been to the Urban Targets in Seattle and Portland and they are really useful. I love that they have needed household goods while being situated in the urban core.”

Develop a theme

Bob Hemphill, owner of Chikn-N-Mo, said that a more unified approach to attracting people downtown is needed, including a design theme such as Coeur d’Alene has. “We don’t have a theme. … You need to invite people downtown to keep the city growing, to keep the city alive. You’ve got to make it absolutely crazy inviting.”

A people-centered plan

Ginger Ewing, arts impresario and co-founder of Terrain: “Downtown Spokane has a lot of momentum right now. Great local restaurants, a growing cultural scene, investment in parks, increased efforts around affordable housing, large-scale events, transit, etc. There are a lot of organizations doing really impactful things, but these efforts lack a collaborative, shared vision with concrete actions and tangible investment, driving these endeavors forward in a cohesive, substantial and sustainable manner. To this end, I would love to see an action-oriented — and adequately funded – plan, led by the City, empowering the expertise of partnering organizations, to foster the creation of local business, encourage placemaking, and put the health and well-being of all Spokanites at the heart of all decision making.”

A multi-purpose sports complex

Also from Mark Richard: “Across the U.S., we are seeing a resurgence of sports facilities constructed in urban cores. The analysis done by the Spokane Sports commission provides the evidence for what we all know instinctively; we are a major sports destination city with gaps in facilities needed to serve both local athletes and to attract more national tournaments. By building the proposed multipurpose facility adjacent to the Arena, we can host more regional and national sporting competitions in about any sport imaginable and create jobs throughout the entire region as a result.”

Fewer cars

Jim Sheehan, owner of the Community Building and Saranac Commons on West Main: “We need Main Street to be closed to traffic—at least from Lincoln to Washington. Make it just a walkway for pedestrians. Put in flowers, benches and trees and make it inviting. This will make for a completely different atmosphere downtown. Traffic separates us—it’s physical barrier. But we have to do whatever we can to bring people together. We need more connection.”

A museum

Several. While I like the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and it’s current location in Browne’s Addition in many ways, I often wonder what it would be like to have it – or something like it – in the downtown core, adding another option for something to do for visitors and locals alike.

Free parking?

We asked people on Facebook for their suggestions for downtown. Several people mentioned a food truck zone, pedestrian-only streets, a zoo and cheaper (or free) parking. Many mentioned a grocery store – while acknowledging that there’s a new one coming very soon in Kendall Yards. Several other readers emphasized eliminating problems such as crime, homelessness and potholes.

Here are some of the suggestions readers offered:

Karen Mobley: A contemporary art space with regularly scheduled open hours, more stable housing for the poor and indigent, and a cat café

Megan Cuilla: Garbage/recycling/compost bins throughout downtown.

Killian Campbell: A pedestrian-only street (like the one next to Urban Outfitters) but populated with food trucks/vendors, benches and pieces of art

Jenniffer Lynn Cooke: A usable trolley system just for downtown​. Make our city more accessible via fun affordable transportation since parking is so limited and expensive.

Justine McKenzie: You know those “tourist” signs up in Seattle that have a map of the area and destinations marked on it so you can find your way about? Those would be nice.

Nancy Azzopardi: An aquarium, a zoo, a full-sized planetarium….in other words….Golden Gate Park….without Californians.

Tim Christie: Streets without potholes that swallow cars.

Brian Havens: Tasteful landscaping and revitalization of many dilapidated areas in downtown. Everyone sees Spokane while driving on I-90 through the heart of the city and yet our freeway doesn’t have tasteful landscaping at all. Seattle’s freeways are gorgeous. I see it being a good bang for the buck to throw up some simple hardy plants and take pride in our freeway to create a more welcoming image.

Tina Page: Free parking throughout Spokane. That’s the biggest reason I won’t go into Spokane. There is nowhere to park unless you want to pay.

Mary Marr Lenz: Instead of putting a cover on the pavilion in the park, Spokane needs to put small lights all over the whole framework. It will look spectacular at night!

Dario Ré: Contemporary Art Museum! It’s utterly important (especially for a city the size of Spokane) to give our locally based creative practitioners and art enthusiasts opportunities to experience contemporary work and be in dialogue with larger veins of contemporary art.

Erik Nelson: Paid biking corral so families can safely park their bikes downtown without having them stolen. The garage at RPS (River Park Square) should have one.

Audrey Duff Overstreet: Good old-fashioned band shell with greenspace to picnic and listen to live symphonic music or create a mosh pit.

Kim Cameron: A light rail system that goes from Cheney to Couer d’Alene, right through Downtown Spokane.

Damon Aikman: Uhh… a doughnut shop! It is so weird that downtown Spokane does not have one. I think it’s Un-American!

Cody Walters: Twenty-four more trash goats.

Brian Parker: A really complete gun shop.

Mark Kinney: Huge old-school record store.


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