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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hopes of welcoming gateway to Hillyard at old army center evaporate with mini-storage units

A landmark location in Hillyard and southern gateway to the neighborhood’s historic business district will soon be a ministorage facility.

The Joe E. Mann Center, 4415 N. Market St., was demolished earlier this year, and its owner, Harlan Douglass, has been issued permits for work preparing the site for construction.

According to plans filed with the city, the storage facility will have 12 one-story buildings, and the cost of construction for the 88,000-square-foot storage facility is estimated at nearly $4 million.

It’s a big shift from just four years ago, when city, school and tribal leaders attempted to redevelop the abandoned site into something welcoming and representative of the community, either as a job training site or public market. But after vandalism caused significant damage to the property, plans collapsed.

Hillyard neighborhood and business leaders aren’t pleased with Douglass’ plans, but they are resigned to the site’s fate.

“It was an eyesore, but from our point of view it’s going to be just as much of an eyesore as a storage place,” said Richard Burris, president of the Greater Hillyard Business Association. “It would’ve been nice if it were a retail center or something more attractive. But he’s the property owner and he can do what he wants.”

Luke Tolley, who represents the Hillyard neighborhood on the city’s Community Assembly, said he’d like to “rewind ten years.”

“That property had such potential,” he said, noting that at one time plans for the site called for farmers markets and outdoor fairs. “There was a ton of opportunity to make that a community asset. Instead it went this other direction. Presumably, what it will become will at least be presentable. It sat and rotted so long.”

Calls for comment to Douglass Properties were not returned.

The U.S. Army listed the Mann Center for disposal since 2005 as part of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. In 2010, the center was vacated and its operations moved to Fairchild Air Force Base, and the school district received authorization to buy it. While waiting for the Army to transfer the property to the U.S. Department of Education so the district could take ownership, the buildings were ravaged by thieves who stripped copper wiring, extensively damaging the property.

The district pulled out of the deal early in 2013 following the vandalism.

With the school district out, the Spokane City Council stepped in as the site’s local development authority and worked to find an appropriate buyer and use for the property. The city came close to making a deal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which would’ve transferred the property to the Spokane Tribe of Indians for potential use as an open-air marketplace, manufacturing training site and office space.

But after three years of vacancy, 10 months of work by the city and extensive vandalism, in 2013 the U.S. Army informed the city that it would have to pay full market value if it wanted the site. At the time, City Council members said the Army’s change in plans was unexpected and the city was in the process of selling property, not purchasing.

Douglass and his wife, Maxine, bought the Mann Center in 2015 for $1.6 million in an auction from the U.S. government, according to county property records. The assessed value of the property at the time was listed at more than $2.8 million.

Now, the site adds to the Douglass family’s collection of self-storage units.

As owner of Self Storage of Spokane, Douglass has a large complex of storage units on North Foothills east of Division in Spokane, and another at Fourth and Eastern in Spokane Valley. The Valley location is the former site of the East Sprague Drive-In Theater, which Douglass bought in 2008 for $1.5 million after the theater had been closed for more than a decade.

Lancze Douglass, Harlan’s son, owns at least seven Secure-It Self Storage facilities in the region, according to the state’s corporation division.