The city of Spokane is ready to move ahead next spring with a long-sought beautification project for the Division Street entrance to downtown at Interstate 90.
New landscaping and walkways will be combined with a series of themed sculptures to create the impression for drivers that they have arrived.
A sculpture of a Native American spear fishing is identified as one of the themes in the $665,000 proposal.
Calls for beautification of city gateways have been sought for years.
City Councilman Jon Snyder, a supporter of gateway improvements, said he thinks that local government has been myopic in their vision for creating attractive entranceways.
He said he has been unable to gather enough support to fund improvements to all of the major gateways to the urban area, including those in Spokane Valley, the West Plains and the North Side.
“This is a really important gateway to improve,” Snyder said of the Division Street entrance. “The Maple Street gateway is just as important.”
The resistance to change was outlined in a city planning report on the Division project last March. “Past attempts to secure adequate public funding for design and construction have not been successful,” the report said.
“In the meantime, hoteliers, real estate brokers, developers and property owners have identified improving the gateways into the city from the Interstate 90 off-ramps as one of their highest priorities,” the document said.
Now, city staff plan to brief City Council members this morning on the Division project during a meeting of the council committee on planning, community and economic development.
Funding for the project would come through a loan from the city’s investment pool and be repaid by the under-freeway street parking revenue fund, said Julie Happy, spokeswoman for the city.
She said the Division entrance will act as a way-finding feature to point visitors to the core of downtown, Riverfront Park and Spokane Falls.
Themed sculptures at the off-ramps will match up with the shimmering metal fish on the outer wall of the Spokane Convention Center at Division and Spokane Falls Boulevard, she said.
The concept is being used in many other cities, including Coeur d’Alene where Northwest Boulevard has had a series of gateway features for years. There, more than $5 million went into improvements completed in 2001.
Happy said such improvements “really change how you feel when you are entering a city. You’ve arrived.”
In 2004, then-Mayor Jim West was turned down by the City Council on a similar plan to use $250,000 from the under-freeway parking fund for the Division Street gateway. Council members cited a looming budget crisis for the denial.
The eyesore that has been the Division entrance got enough attention that the Associated Garden Clubs of Spokane donated $25,000 from their ongoing fundraising work to install a welcome feature at Fourth Avenue and Division adjacent to the freeway in 2010. The garden clubs’ landscaping included five “Spokane” hybrid lilacs.
Happy said the current plan calls for retaining the garden clubs’ work.
City Hall initiated more planning work in a 2010 Division Street Gateways Corridors project that looked at street changes from the entrances at Third and Fourth to Spokane Falls Boulevard.
Snyder said the study called for changes in lane configurations to increase pedestrian and bicycle access, but those ideas died under the current administration. He said the intersection of Division and Sprague Avenue is still in need of safety improvements to reduce accidents there.
Back at the entrances, problems go beyond the need for landscaping and sculptures, Snyder said.
The area along the freeway attracts transients who gather in the area as well as panhandlers who stand at curbside with signs asking for handouts. Drug dealing has been a common occurrence at the freeway skate park east of Lewis and Clark High School. In addition, a number of private properties are in disrepair, including a vacant motel at Lincoln Street and Third Avenue.
“That whole area has big issues, and this project is one aspect of it,” Snyder said.
The Division project is slated to eliminate overgrown shrubs used to hide transient activity, Happy said. The overgrowth will be replaced by basalt boulders, trees, low-growing plants, irrigation and new sidewalks. In areas without plants next to traffic lanes, the proposal calls for using crushed basalt rock as a ground cover.
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