When the Northwest Neighborhood split into Audubon-Downriver and Northwest in 2015, the council leaders all lived in the Audubon-Downriver section. So the newly formed Northwest Neighborhood had to build its council from the ground up.
Kathy Fitchner, secretary for the old council, was one of the few council members who remained. “We didn’t have any officers,” she said. “We didn’t know what we were doing, but we said we’d dive in head first.”
Simple geography motivated the split along the Shadle Corridor. “It was just too big,” said Larry Peck, Northwest’s vice chair. “We couldn’t serve everybody.”
Audubon/Downriver’s veteran board – Jeff Stevens, Victor Frazier and Fran Papenleur – helped the council get its feet set. “They gave us so much help and support when we were a new neighborhood,” said Fitchner. “After two years, we decided … we can go out on our own, and just be our own neighborhood.”
Cut off from its history, tradition and experience, the Northwest Neighborhood has to accumulate its own experience, define its own traditions, and create its own history. “I’m kind of glad that we are new,” said council chair Doug Prendergast. “We’re charting our own course, our own direction.”
The Northwest Neighborhood’s northern border runs along Francis Avenue, State Highway 291 and Seven Mile Road to the Spokane River. The river serves as the western border; Wellesley Avenue to the south and Ash Street to the east complete the circuit. The neighborhood is home to Joe Albi Stadium, the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex and three other parks.
Council activities include the Shadle Corridor planning process, street improvements and a comprehensive meet-and-greet project.
Northwest and Audubon/Downriver are collaborating on the Shadle Corridor action plan. The planning process began five months ago – they have two years to complete it – but the idea has been kicking around since the city-funded neighborhood planning in 2007.
“There’s been on and off conversations about what they might want to do,” said Prendergast. “Shadle Center … kept coming up, over and over again.”
Shadle Center serves a large swath of Spokane’s northwestern neighborhoods; Prendergast said he believes it will take collaboration among all of them to manage its growth.
“It’s too big for one neighborhood to handle and claim as their own; before (Shadle Center) turns into this massive, sprawling thing … it’s time to make a cohesive plan,” Prendergast said.
The council isn’t sitting on its hands during the planning process; a project to install sidewalks near Ridgeview Elementary School is already in motion. “When it snows, the kids have to walk in the streets,” Peck said. “We’ve got (sidewalks) on Nebraska now, and we’re getting some on the other streets.”
The council earmarked speed feedback signs for sections of Belt Street and Driscoll Avenue. Fitchner’s husband, who drives for Uber, suggested the Belt location.
“There is that huge hill as you are coming down toward Francis,” Fitchner said. “You don’t realize how fast you are going; (my husband) said people are going 45-50 miles an hour … and there’s kids walking up there from Salk (Middle School).”
The council is in the midst of a door-to-door campaign to introduce the council to the neighborhood. The goal is to knock on each of the neighborhood’s 8,000 doors by the end of May. “It’s not just about leaving literature on someone’s doorknob,” said Prendergast. “We’re going to try to make contact with them when we can, and engage with them on a personal level.”
Peck takes care of the neighborhood’s parks, including the doggy bag stations in Loma Vista Park. “It took us a while … but (people) do use them,” he said. “You don’t want dogs (leaving land mines) in the middle of a soccer field.”
The council donated its Community Development Block Grant to Sinto Senior Center in 2017, to help the center build a garage for their vans. “They used to have to sit outside,” said Peck. “(They) were constantly being vandalized.”
The council funded construction of a new Shadle Park Amphitheater, completed in the summer of 2017. “I think it’s a better venue now,” said Prendergast. “It’s less infrastructure to maintain, and people aren’t doing drugs behind the walls anymore. They can’t hide.”
Joe Albi Stadium’s future is a hot topic. “The perception seems to be that it’s going downtown,” said Prendergast.
A recent $25 million bond approval by Spokane County Commissioners, to build a Sportsplex north of the Spokane River and Riverfront Park, is fueling speculation. The current Sportsplex plan doesn’t include a football stadium.
“I don’t think (they) have made up their minds yet,” said Fitchner.
The council shuffled its board last week; Prendergast passed the gavel to cleanup coordinator Bob Turner and moved to vice chair. Fitchner took over as council treasurer; Peck, who stepped down as vice chair, will continue his work with the neighborhood parks.
Turner would like to build a Northside coalition, similar to the existing South Hill Coalition. “It doesn’t make sense to create islands,” he said. He plans to move some of the council meetings outdoors, to the neighborhood’s parks.
Three years after the split, Prendergast was able to pass Turner the reins to a fully functioning, independent neighborhood council.
“When you are a new council, and you’re not sure what your rules and objectives should be, it’s easier sometimes to follow the leader,” he said. “But I think we are getting to a point now where we feel like, ‘this is ours; this is what we want to do.”
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