The waterfall that cascades through the center of the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza is headed down the river.
On Thursday, the STA board of directors unanimously approved a $4.7 million remake of the Plaza’s interior that will eliminate the waterfall and make substantial changes to the main floor of the bus depot.
Two bronze cougars that stand sentry over the falls will be relocated within the Plaza, officials said.
The redesign is intended to make the Plaza more functional for bus riders and more inviting for others who might want to use any of four new retail spaces that will be added to the first floor.
The project will take a year for detailed design work before construction can begin next May. Because STA will continue to use the Plaza as its hub for bus service, the construction work will be done in segments over the course of 15 months.
Completion is expected in September 2016.
The project will be paid from reserves in STA’s sales tax collections.
Before the Plaza was built in 1995, bus riders lined up along downtown streets to wait for buses.
The modern facility was criticized for its $20 million cost, including the Italian tile used on the floors. Some people have objected to the Plaza over the years for attracting unsavory characters downtown, but STA has maintained a strong security presence. Regardless, the Plaza has served as a convenience for riders waiting for buses or transferring between them, especially during bad weather.
Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said the addition of ground-floor retail will create a broader mix of people inside the Plaza and provide a new public asset for downtown. He said conference space envisioned for the second floor in a second phase of work is a needed amenity downtown.
Karl Otterstrom, STA planning director, told the STA board that the redesign will make better use of the space, including the likely addition of a coffee shop or fast-food restaurants. One space will be in the northeast rotunda area of the main floor and will have an exterior door with exterior seating. The other three retail spaces will line the west side of the Plaza.
Currently, the only food outlet on the first floor is a Subway sandwich shop, which has proved popular since it opened.
Rion Murinko, who has ridden STA buses for 15 years, said she welcomes the addition of more businesses to the Plaza.
“Right now it just seems like a lot of open space for people to get into trouble,” said Murinko as she waited for a bus at the Plaza on Thursday evening. “The Plaza is certainly lacking in retail.”
More businesses will bring in customers rather than troublemakers who hang around, she said. But Murinko added that the area around the Plaza has become safer in recent months, particularly after the downtown police precinct opened next door.
The escalator in the middle of the Plaza will be moved to the south where a new customer service center will be located.
A new indoor waiting area will be added next to the south doors along Sprague Avenue so that riders can stay inside and watch for buses arriving in zones six through nine. The existing security office will be moved upstairs. The redesign includes new wall coverings and a major upgrade to the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system.
STA hired ALSC Architects and Coffman Engineers, both of Spokane, to create the redesign plan.
Retail spaces will be removed from the second floor, which will be redesigned for conference and gallery spaces. The second-floor work is not included in the budget approved by the board on Thursday. It will cost an additional $1 million to $2 million, officials said.
The new first-floor retail spaces are expected to generate $85,000 to $100,000 a year in new revenue, Otterstrom said.
Relocation of the cougar sculptures within the Plaza was supported by 60 percent of riders in a survey done by STA. The agency is working with the artist, Ken Spiering of Spokane, on the best spot to place them, Otterstrom said.Murinko, who was waiting for a bus at the Plaza, won’t mind losing the waterfall.
“My children do love the waterfall,” Murinko said. “But it does take up unnecessary space and I’m sure it costs unnecessary money.”
Nina Culver contributed to this report.