The Bemiss Neighborhood Council prides itself on being collaborative.
“We work with everybody,” council chair Kathryn Alexander said. “Collaboration is what we do. It’s who we are.”
Chaired by a former Spokane City Council candidate and co-chaired by the wife of a city councilman, Bemiss is an active, engaged council. Recent projects include upgrades to Hays Park, new wrinkles for their summer concert series, an initiative to spruce up the city’s neglected alleyways and a traffic calming project that solved several thorny problems with a single bump.
Situated near the center of District 1 in northeast Spokane, Bemiss shares borders with six neighborhoods, the most in the city. Approximate neighborhood boundaries are Market Street east, Perry Street west, Wellesley Avenue north and Illinois Avenue south. Irregularities at the corners give Bemiss a jigsaw-puzzle shape.
“We’re investigating squaring off our boundaries,” said council co-chair Donna Fagan. “We’ll have to deal with Logan and Minnehaha.”
Hays Park is the neighborhood’s centerpiece. “We are really trying to make the park active,” Alexander said. “We want the neighborhood to use it as much as possible.”
LED lighting, new benches and a paved pathway through the park should all be finished by the end of August.
The council’s Hays Park summer concert series, “Music Under the Oaks,” kicks off this Friday with multi-instrumentalist Pamela Benton set to perform. The Jerry-At-Tricks will perform on July 27, the Lilac City Community Band on Aug. 10 and folk duo Fancee That on Aug. 24.
The Jerry-At-Tricks features Hillyard Senior Center director Jerry Unruh. “We are hoping he’ll bring a more inclusive crowd,” Fagan said. “It’ll be fun.”
Activities planned for this year’s concert series include drone, chemical magic and instrument-making demonstrations. Fagan will be helping neighborhood children wave giant, bubble-making wands at the first concert.
“Our music is mostly for adults,” Fagan said. “This year we want to make it more family oriented; we want to have (something) for the kids, other than the playground.”
The Spokane COPS Mounted Patrol has several events scheduled in Hays Park; the next is set for July 21. “Kids get to pet the horses and talk about what they do,” Alexander said.
“We were pleased that they selected Hays Park,” council secretary Marlene Maurer said. “Anything to encourage good use of the park.”
Bemiss works closely with Spokane Matters, a citywide pilot program aimed at integrating services between a wide variety of civic and private organizations.
“A couple of years ago, the mayor decided that departments inside the city should talk together. He got them together by district one day a month, so every three months a district meets. At the beginning of each quarter, they start another project,” Alexander said.
“Neighborhoods are included, nonprofits are included, school boards are included – anybody can come to those meetings and be a part of it,” Alexander said.
Alexander, partnered with Bemiss council member Greg Kappus, helms Safe + Bright Alleys, a Spokane Matters initiative based on a previous paving project to improve alley access for city sanitation trucks.
“We are doing the alleys that the garbage trucks don’t go down,” Alexander said.
The process is straightforward. Alexander or Kappus calls the city, the city brings leftover asphalt shavings to the designated alley, and the neighbors spread it.
Kappus brought in a few cement spreaders. “They make it really easy,” Alexander said. “It’s much easier than shovels or rakes, which is what people usually bring.”
City workers don’t just dump a load of asphalt and drive off; they pitch in with everyone else. Alexander said there have been around 15 volunteers for just about every job.
“We did our alley last weekend,” Maurer said. “I was really happy I was not the only one there with a rake.”
A previous Spokane Matters initiative helped the neighborhood remove 83 discarded large appliances. “It was through a recycler they were picked up,” Fagan said. “Not through the city.”
The council’s next move could come as part of another Spokane Matters project, District One’s Youth and Parks initiative. As part of the project, Gretchen Chomas of the Spokane Regional Health District surveyed 133 Bemiss residents about their ability to manage various aspects of daily living.
“Gretchen did yeoman’s work, putting all that together,” Alexander said. “We’re still digesting it.”
The council, combining city, country and federal funds, installed a bump-out curb at North Cook Street and East Empire Avenue to increase pedestrian safety and put a stop to dangerous traffic habits at what has long been a problematic intersection.
Before the bump-out curb was installed, pedestrians from the Northeast Community Center, the Hillyard Senior Center and Shaw Middle School had to cross the wide, dogleg intersection against arterial traffic.
“The angle was the biggest problem,” Fagan said. “You can’t see anybody walking across the street at a certain point. By the time you are there, it’s too late.”
The bump-out shortens the crossing distance, enhances visibility and ends the risky practice of making blind right-side passes around cars turning left onto Cook.
Ultimately the council would like a flashing-light crosswalk installed. “We’ve been trying,” Alexander said. “But the cost has been prohibitive so far.”
Bemiss isn’t in the path of the approaching north-south freeway, but the council is involved in planning the corridor along the north side of the Spokane River. “It’s going to be a community area,” Fagan said.
The planned trail, planted with edible plants and trees, would trace the foothills along Illinois to Perry Street before turning south to connect with the Centennial Trail.