Spokane Transit Authority’s board of directors, under criticism from the business community over downtown loitering, will face its critics on Thursday while also considering a 10-year plan to improve transit service.
Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, is scheduled to present a list of recommendations from business leaders to tame loitering in and near the STA Plaza, 701 W. Riverside Ave.
Business leaders who studied a proposed remodeling of the Plaza said in a report this week that they support continued transit operations at the Plaza but argue for concentrating bus operations on the main floor and not spending extra on remodeling space for potential retail or conference room uses.
Spokane County Commissioner Al French, an STA board member, said concerns over the Plaza are being addressed, and the board “is going to say let’s get busy moving this forward.”
At the same time, the board is taking public testimony on its STA Moving Forward plan, which calls for building a central city line, a West Plains transit center, new high-performance bus routes and other improvements across the STA service area.
The public hearing will start after 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the STA board room, 1229 W. Boone Ave.
STA officials have been working for months to engage the public on ideas for better transit service. Parts of the plan appeals to neighborhoods across the urban area.
But Moving Forward would require voter approval of a 0.3 percent sales tax increase.
A measure could go on the ballot as early as April, officials said.
The funding also would allow STA to avoid future cuts in service.
“This is really a Spokane-size package of projects,” said Susan Meyer, STA’s chief executive officer.
During Thursday’s meeting, the board is scheduled to consider an $88 million budget for 2015 that relies on a $16.5 million draw off of the agency’s $53 million cash balance.
On the positive side, STA sales tax collections are back to the level of 2007, when it received $46.7 million in sales tax revenue. The forecast for 2015 calls for $48.4 million in sales tax.
Spending on current capital needs, including replacement buses, would exhaust the cash balance by about 2018 or 2019 without a sales tax increase, according to the STA. That could potentially force cuts in service. The STA board would continue to maintain a $20 million reserve.
The proposed ballot measure has a twofold purpose, Meyer said: “One is to maintain existing levels of service, and the other is to obtain more and better transit service.”
One of the capital expenditures is a proposed $5.8 million remodel of the Plaza, which involves moving customer service and other passenger facilities to the ground floor, adding retail space at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Wall Street, and reconfiguring the interior by moving the escalators to the south wall.
Business leaders in July asked for a delay in the remodel so that they could study the plan with an eye toward curbing loitering.
Under business pressure, the STA board approved a delay of nearly four months on the Plaza remodel.
A committee drawn from the Downtown Spokane Partnership, Greater Spokane Incorporated and Visit Spokane spent the past several months studying the issue.
Their recommendations seek to minimize what the report calls “non-transit-related activity” and call for eliminating the escalators in favor of existing elevators and stairways.
French said he expects the proposed retail space on the ground floor at Riverside and Wall will get a lot of interest from potential tenants.
“That’s prime space,” he said.
STA board members said they would retain the escalator but place it along the wall to create better sight lines for security and for watching bus movements on electronic screens.
“The rest of the stuff we can work with,” Spokane City Councilman Mike Allen, an STA board member, said of the committee report from the business groups.
Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref, chair of the STA board, said she wants to hear the formal report Thursday before commenting. She said the issue likely will be referred to a board subcommittee before any decision is made on the remodeling.
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