In 1992, the Spokane City Council directed staff to begin the design and construction of a new span over the Spokane Falls. Dubbed the Lincoln Street Bridge, it was part of a plan extend downtown’s grid north of the river by stretching the Monroe-Lincoln one-way couplet over the gorge.
Five years later, the city released the first drawings of the bridge, signaling the start of a $36 million project that city and business leaders said would “revolutionize” downtown.
“We’re well on our way to getting to crank up the project and finish it,” said Phil Williams, the city’s then-director of planning and engineering services.
Williams can be forgiven for overshooting his prediction. The city pushed hard to get it done, and so did business leaders, including the owners of The Spokesman-Review, who were developing the River Park Square mall.
Betsy Cowles, president of Lincoln Investment Co. and Citizens Realty Co., the two companies developing the mall, said the shopping center’s plan incorporated the bridge into the design of the $100 million mall project.
“I have no idea what we’re going to do if there is no bridge,” Cowles said in a 1997 Spokesman article. Cowles is chair of the Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review.
By the end of 1997, $7 million of public money already had gone to the Lincoln Street bridge project, including $2.8 million to buy the former Salty’s restaurant site, where Anthony’s sits today, and $3.2 million on a design contract with CH2M Hill.
By 1999, the ranks of the proposal’s opponents had swollen. Led by Friends of the Falls, the contentious bridge project generated hundreds of letters, phone calls, newspaper articles, prompted television and radio talk show coverage and became a litmus test for political candidates.
In November 1999, Spokane citizens passed a charter amendment that called for a vote on any bridge that would cross the Spokane River gorge, essentially a referendum against the Lincoln Street bridge. Also, all six candidates for three council seats on the same ballot said they opposed the bridge.
The project was dead, which was made official on Feb. 15, 2000, when the Spokane City Council unanimously withdrew its support for the Lincoln Street bridge project.