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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Steam Plant Concept Jells Restored Landmark Will Feature Retail Shops, Eateries, Brewpub

For Ron Wells the visionary, downtown Spokane’s old steam plant is a playground.

In the maze of boilers, bunkers, rusting pipes and catwalks, Wells, a historic preservationist, wants to create Steam Plant Square - a 60,000-square-foot retail complex with shops, restaurants and a brewpub.

Ignoring the broken windows and pigeons flying above, Wells sees a downtown destination, with patrons wandering across cobblestone walkways and exploring the 84-year-old building as a living history museum.

“We thought it would be great to have an elevator go up to the top (of the 250-foot smoke stack) for a viewpoint, but we can’t figure out how to make it meet code,” Wells said.

That kind of imagination on the part of Wells, his wife Julie, and their partners at WP Finance, a Washington Water Power subsidiary, has been the project’s guiding force.

“We see this as a catalyst for the neighborhood,” Kim Pearman-Gillman, of WWP and WP Finance, said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “You’ll have a finished project here by the spring of next year.”

The project’s cost was not disclosed Wednesday, though previously has been estimated at $4 million.

A huge ship-like bunker descending from the ceiling will be converted into offices. Three of the plant’s old boilers - one of which has walls lined with vertical pipes - will be transformed into shop space.

The plans, which have been expanded since they were initially revealed last year, now include the 107-year-old Seehorn Building, fronting Lincoln Street just south of the railroad viaduct between First and Second.

Originally used as a rail freight distribution center, that building will be Steam Plant Square’s front door, housing several small businesses. Potential tenants are software developers and other related high-tech companies.

Though it’s right next to the railroad viaduct, the building doesn’t budge when a train passes, Pearman-Gillman said.

“You hear them, but it doesn’t even move,” she said. “Structurally, it’s very sound.”

Two levels of parking - one above and one below ground - will be built into the project, between the Seehorn Building and the steam plant.

Demolition of the building that will become the parking garage will begin April 1, Pearman-Gillman said.

Construction of some of the parking, she added, depends on WWP receiving final approval from the Department of Ecology to remove underground fuel tanks. Approval is expected within three months, she said.

WWP is in the process of cleaning up oil spilled from one of the tanks, which contaminated the area and which sparked a lawsuit from the nearby Davenport Hotel. The lawsuit was dropped partially because of WWP’s support for the steam plant restoration project and commitment to the Davenport’s renovation.

The Steam Plant Square partners hope to widen the alley on the south side of the project to provide access to the parking lot. An alley on the north side of the project also will provide access to parking.

An open house with 20-minute tours will be held at the steam plant on Feb. 19 from 3 to 6 p.m.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos

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