If the city of Spokane expects to polish the tarnished image of the East Sprague Avenue neighborhood, it’s going to require buy-in by the business owners there, including a handful of merchants who sell the supersize cans of high-octane beer the city wants to eliminate.
While that buy-in includes voluntary compliance with a proposed Alcohol Impact Area designation, which would end the sale of single cans of high-alcohol beer, it also means a sustained commitment to making the street a safe and comfortable place for the law-abiding public.
As it is, public drunkenness has been a problem there, along with its unpleasant manifestations on the sidewalks. Streetwalkers ply their trade. A motorcycle gang has its headquarters just down the street.
It’s time for radical change, and a fledgling neighborhood business association has accepted the challenge. Its vision, shared by a few forward-looking officials at City Hall, is an International District whose dining and shopping experiences would appeal to community residents and tourists, not to mention students who eventually will have access to East Sprague via a pedestrian bridge from the city’s developing University District.
On Sept. 14, the Spokane City Council will consider creating an Alcohol Impact Area between Perry and Rebecca streets and from Main to Fifth avenues. Under the plan, the ban on selling individual cans of strong beer would depend on voluntary compliance at first. If problems persist, the ban could become mandatory.
A similar ban imposed downtown more than a decade ago never went beyond the voluntary stage. But a legal ban on the sale of fortified wine downtown was blamed, or credited, for the closure of a grocery that once did business at Third Avenue and Browne Street.
It’s going to fall to the other businesses along East Sprague to persuade vendors who are reluctant to turn beer buyers away. Restoring public order to the neighborhood must promise long-term benefits that outweigh short-term losses.
The stretch of West First Avenue near Madison and Jefferson streets downtown is an example worth studying. Once plagued by seedy taverns and a porn shop, the area now boasts art galleries, a boutique hotel and entertainment venues, thanks to a multifaceted partnership between Spokane police and the citizens who live and work in the neighborhood and have a stake in its livability.
Such social reclamation projects succeed only with determination and lasting commitment. One-step fixes aren’t enough.
For East Sprague, favorable action by the City Council on the Alcohol Impact Area would be a positive move. However, a one-time move won’t carry us very far along the path to a vibrant International District. It will take lasting momentum.
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