One of the first things that visitors to Spokane see when they exit Interstate 90 at Division Street is an empty lot behind temporary murals.
A Lutheran church that stood at the site at the northwest corner of Third Avenue and Division for decades was demolished in 2008 to make room for a proposed new motel.
But the Great Recession put the kibosh on that project, leading to the vacant space at the city’s all-important Division gateway.
“The first thing you see is a crater,” Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder said of the vacant property. “It’s about as bad an introduction to a city as you can have.”
Owners of the land now have a plan to fill the eyesore.
They are proposing a $2 million retail and office building where rebar and rubble now lie.
Rita Santillanes, who owns the property with her husband, John, said she hopes work can begin in about six months.
She said she is working with Baker Construction & Development Inc., of Spokane, to locate tenants and design the building to meet potential tenant needs.
In addition, the couple plan to move their business offices for their four Peppertree Inns to occupy half of the top floor.
Rita Santillanes said Baker Construction is helping to market and design the project.
“It’s a great piece of property. It’s a great location,” she said.
Jan Quintrall, Spokane’s director of planning and development services, said word of the project came as welcome news at City Hall.
“That would be so wonderful to have something in there,” she said.
City officials and other community leaders consider the Division entrance so significant that the city is planning to spend $665,000 on landscaping and pedestrian improvements along Division between Third and Fourth avenues.
Quintrall said a close examination of the area showed that under-freeway pedestrian use is significant, and those pedestrians include people who walk downhill from nearby medical facilities to get coffee or a bite to eat.
The gateway improvements will emphasize safe pedestrian passage, she said.
Rita Santillanes said Brooke Baker, of Baker Construction, is trying to find a fast-service restaurant that is a step up from old-school fast food to fill one of the retail spaces.
The so-called fast-fresh trend has grown in popularity in recent years, and would be a good addition at Third and Division, Quintrall said.
Santillanes said the demise of the motel proposal several years ago can be traced to a number of factors.
The project was slow getting started because of regulatory issues, including demolition of the previous St. John’s Lutheran Church at the site.
Other problems came when the recession hit. Santillanes said the economic downturn led to problems with their financing from the Bank of Whitman, which closed in 2011.
Santillanes said Walt and Karen Worthy’s decision to build the new 716-room Davenport Grand Hotel at the Spokane Convention Center raised doubts in her mind about opening another lodging facility when so much new room capacity was being added downtown.
“I did all I could do,” she said about trying to develop a new Best Western Plus Peppertree Inn at the Division location. “I lost a lot of money there.”
She and her husband operate Peppertrees at Spokane Airport, Liberty Lake, Auburn and Omak. They currently are expanding their Omak inn by 40 rooms, she said.
Notes from a predevelopment conference for the new proposal at Division and Third indicate the building would have 16,600 square feet of space. The plan calls for allowing a drive-through restaurant window.
The Dec. 17 conference with various city department officials showed that the project is feasible, Quintrall said, adding, “It doesn’t look like there are any showstoppers.”
Snyder said he is pleased with the news. “A vacant lot like that can sit for a very long time,” he said.
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