Renovations to the former Macy’s building in downtown Spokane are still on schedule, although a city review board has questions about specifics of the project design.
The plans, which were submitted to the city’s Design Review Board last month, don’t meet codes requiring first-floor, nonresidential street facades of big buildings be at least 60 percent windows.
“The project wasn’t even close on certain sides,” said Austin Dickey, president of the Design Review Board. “Our main concern was it was deviating too far.”
The building is owned and being redeveloped by Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of the Cowles Co., which also publishes The Spokesman-Review.
The board also took issue with sections of blank wall space that exceed 25 feet.
In cases like this, Dickey said the board will traditionally work with the developer to approve the design if they agree to make up for the deficiencies in other areas – for example, by including art or other pedestrian-friendly additions.
“For the most part, the city and the board want people to meet the intent of the code,” Dickey said. “Or, to try and work with each other to have a collaborative effort.”
The reasoning behind the restrictions, according to the code’s language, is to “encourage observation or viewing opportunities by restricting fortress-like facades at street level” and to “avoid a monotonous pedestrian environment.”
The board took no issue with the building’s facade on Main Ave., or any of the other extensive elements of the building’s design.
They include: removing and reinstalling two skywalks on the east and west sides of the building complex to conform to the new floor layout; adding glass, wall panels and brick to the building’s sides; adding trees and replacing the sidewalk; adding 105 apartments to floors three through nine, which will have set-back balconies; removing the mezzanine level, or second floor of the former Macy’s, and creating an 18-foot-high ceiling on the first floor; and creating a new mezzanine level on the new second floor.
The basement of the building will also be reconstructed for parking. The historic east side of the building will remain mostly untouched.
Doug Yost, director of real estate investments at Centennial, said the company is moving forward with demolition and expects to hit the completion deadlines next year.
“We’re hoping to be ready to turn over retail space in November of 2017,” he said. “Residential will open in spring and summer of 2018.”
When preliminary designs were first presented on Sept. 29, the Design Review Board had similar concerns. Centennial officials responded that “the design is thoughtful in its detailing and provides a rich and appropriate urban response to its immediate surroundings.”
In response to questions from the board, project architects from NAC Architecture said large expanses of windows would create complications with the pair of national retailers slotted to occupy the first floor. The retail companies, which haven’t yet been announced, prefer designs of brick with accentuating windows rather than a simple window-heavy design the city desires.
“I don’t know if I’m nitpicking or if I’ve really got an issue,” Dickey said during the meeting. “But I’m worried all of the time about it not meeting our code. If you’re a retailer and you want to be here, you have to try and follow code.”
Before Planning Services Director Lisa Key can sign off on the design and renovations can ramp up fully, Yost said Centennial will continue to meet with city officials to try to reach a compromise.
“There are a lot of things you can do to fulfill the requirements to make the street active and everything,” Yost said.
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