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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Stormwater tanks, green spaces and traffic blockages headed downtown in 2017

The city of Spokane is set to begin construction next year on two massive subterranean tanks that will store millions of gallons of stormwater as part of ongoing efforts to clean up the Spokane River.

The construction will bring two new green spaces to the downtown area. But it’s also prompting concern that there will be a repeat of the obstructions that plagued pedestrians and motorists in the city’s core this summer.

“Our biggest concerns are traffic, dust, noise and accessibility,” said Terra Turner, owner of Studio One, a hair salon that has stood for nearly 15 years at the corner of First Avenue and Adams Street on downtown’s West End.

While city officials acknowledge the disruptive nature of the work on Monroe and Lincoln streets that caused headaches this summer, the work on the stormwater tank will be much more progressive, said Marlene Feist, spokeswoman for the city, beginning with burying the tank then moving to disturbing the streets. Though preliminary work is slated to begin next month on the tank at First and Adams, construction that affects traffic on major downtown thoroughfares is still roughly a year away, she said.

“The challenging thing for this project is some of the piping connections,” Feist said. “But we can’t hook up the pipes without anywhere for that water to go.”

In January, Avista Utilities will begin preliminary work ahead of burying a tank that can hold up to 2.3 million gallons of stormwater runoff right next door to the Studio One salon. Turner and the salon’s previous owner, Dana Matthews, said they haven’t received any information directly from the city about the construction project, instead receiving bits and pieces from customers and their landlord, Chuck Little.

“We’re going to play it as it goes,” said Little, who’s seeking tenants for the vacant former Watts Automotive and Driveline Service, which shuttered last week after operating for nearly 60 years at 1312 W. First Ave. “When it’s done, it’s going to be real nice. It’s going to upgrade this whole part of town.”

Little said the owners of Watts are looking for a new site for the business, in part because of the anticipated disruption to traffic along First Avenue that will result from the stormwater tank project.

Feist said it was difficult to contact everyone in a particular neighborhood, given the various ways they’re able to find information on city construction projects. But she said the city had made an effort to speak to all property owners surrounding the site.

The lot where the tank will be buried was the former home of Fire Station 4. The city bought the property back from Ron Wells last year for $868,000, an amount much greater than the $500,000 the city sold it for in 2004. Wells tore down the old station in 2006, according to city records.

City staff initially investigated whether a structure, most likely low-income housing, could be built on top of the tank. But the cost to provide a safe foundation for a building above the tank proved too great, and the city pivoted this summer to designing green space for the block. That proposal was approved by the Riverside Neighborhood Council.

“The other options did not make sense,” said Gary Pollard, longtime chairman of the neighborhood group.

Pollard said he’s been working with the city on the design of the park space to ensure crime does not become an issue at night. Preliminary designs for the space, prepared by the Liberty Lake firm Landscape Architecture, include several streetlights, potential bus shelters and a clear line of sight to the center of the lot.

“Well, that area is on the fringe,” Pollard said. “There is a slight history of car break-ins. Because of that, I was concerned about security in the park. Lighting is definitely going to be a factor.”

Turner and Mathews aren’t concerned about the finished product, which will take two years to complete at an estimated cost of $16.3 million. That estimate includes the cost to build the green space, said city spokeswoman Julie Happy.

The salon owners are instead worried the lane restrictions on Sprague and First avenues during the construction will limit on-street meter parking for their business. They’re also concerned any debris dug up during the construction could prohibit a large portion of their customer base – residents of the many historical apartment buildings surrounding the salon, many of them older customers – from risking a trek to the business’s front door.

“We’re definitely preparing to lose some clientele,” Turner said.

Mathews, who relinquished control of the business to Turner a couple years ago and has stayed on as a stylist, said he’d appreciate some acknowledgment from the city during construction that parking might be a hassle.

“It’d be great if the city could take out parking fees for a while,” he said. The city waived meter fees in some areas of downtown after 5 p.m. during this summer’s road construction, in part due to complaints from businesses about a decline in visitors.

Feist said the city had held several open-house meetings on the project, including one this week at the studios of KHQ-TV, whose access will also be affected by the construction. KHQ is owned by the Cowles Co., which also publishes The Spokesman-Review.

To meet a deadline established by the state Department of Ecology and federal Environmental Protection Agency, the city must make substantial progress on all of its combined stormwater tanks before the end of 2017. The tanks trap water that would otherwise go into combined sewer lines that would overflow during excessive rainfall or snow, causing untreated sewage and industrial runoff to enter the Spokane River.

Eleven projects, at a total cost of $83 million, will begin construction throughout Spokane in 2017, Happy said.

Construction will also begin early next year on a $20 million, 2.2-million-gallon tank that will be buried on the bluff overlooking the Spokane River to the west of City Hall. A portion of Spokane Falls Boulevard will be closed during construction, and traffic will be rerouted south on Lincoln Street for motorists to avoid the work, Feist said.

Designs for a plaza that will overlook the Spokane River are still being finalized, though they will likely include some green space, according to initial conceptual drawings. The overlook currently houses a monument to Thornton Murphy, a builder and civic leader who died in 1967.

Turner, the salon owner, said she’s hoping for the best with the road construction and installation of the stormwater tanks.

“I love where we’re at,” she said. “We’ve got a nice view. Our clients work downtown and live downtown.”

Feist said the city will continue to work with neighbors as the major building gets underway.

“We’re trying to get all the pieces together, and really deliver something that will be an asset for that part of the community,” she said.

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