A task force of business leaders met behind closed doors on Wednesday to talk about the future of the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza in the heart of downtown.
The meeting comes after business interests persuaded the STA board in July to postpone until November a vote on moving ahead with a $5.8 million remodel of the plaza, the city’s central bus station.
“I think it was an extremely healthy conversation,” said Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, who organized the task force.
He said a private setting was more conducive to keeping his group on task.
“We need to have frank discussions,” he said.
The STA board has given the business leaders until Nov. 15 to make their recommendations on plaza operations and the planned remodel. The task force is scheduled to meet four more times through Oct. 31.
Richard said no one in the task force expressed the opinion on Wednesday that the plaza should be moved to another part of the city.
Rather, the question is whether the remodel can meet the goals of improving customer service and minimizing adverse impacts such as loitering and other nuisances, Richard said.
In addition to loitering, the plaza’s system of loading and unloading creates clusters of riders who can impede other pedestrians.
Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref, chairwoman of the STA board, said the meeting was productive despite not being open to the media or the public.
“There was a really good dialog,” she said.
Waldref was joined at the meeting by County Commissioner Al French, who is also a member of the STA board, and top STA staff and remodel consultants.
“It was about answering questions and making sure they have a good understanding” of the remodel project, French said.
The meeting was led by a facilitator from Whitworth University, hired by the Downtown Spokane Partnership, Richard said.
About half of the 25-member task force attended, Waldref said.
One of the absent task force members was Stacey Cowles, publisher of The Spokesman-Review, who was out of town.
Remodeling of the 1995 plaza involves moving customer service and other passenger facilities to the first floor, bringing retail from the second floor to the first floor, creating a public meeting space on the second floor and adding a new retail space at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Wall Street.
The idea is to create a mix of uses to break up the domination of the space by bus riders.
After the STA removed its outdoor smoking area adjacent to the plaza in 2012, business leaders saw a vast increase in loitering in the area, especially along Post and Wall streets, as smokers sought places to smoke while waiting for buses.
Mike Senske, CEO of Pearson Packaging Systems and chairman of Greater Spokane Incorporated’s board, said he has had business clients who told him last year they no longer wanted to stay at the Davenport Hotel because of the loitering. Those clients subsequently went to the Northern Quest Casino hotel, he said.
STA officials say the loitering problem has declined since the STA installed a new plaza smoking area this year at a cost of $70,000. The Spokane City Council also responded with anti-loitering measures. Richard said that no one should think that moving the plaza will solve Spokane’s street problems. He said any comprehensive solution involves dealing with loitering, mental health and other issues.
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