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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Spokane deserves classier motto, like ‘Keep Spokane Kind of Gross’

The newly-completed arch of the University District Gateway Bridge, Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The newly-completed arch of the University District Gateway Bridge, Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s been said there are really just two kinds of stories: Someone comes to town, someone leaves town.

Only in this case, we’re talking things, not people.

An arch goes up. A hotel comes down. Sort of.

A public project arises to help connect the city – the arch rising over the bridge between the University District and East Sprague. A private project starts seeking new life for an abandoned old downtown hotel – the demolition under way at the old Ridpath annex.

Something comes to town. Something leaves town.

Town evolves.

The pace of change in Spokane, and particularly downtown, has been accelerating at such a degree that it’s harder than ever to point to individual cases. From torn-up roads, to large infrastructure and park projects, to that one looming crane, Spokane is entering a construction season that marks the way the city is changing distinctly. It’s like we’re seeing physical manifestations of the many cultural and civic changes that have felt so palpable here in recent years.

We have changed from a city where the chief concern was civic torpor to one beset increasingly by all the visible problems and blessings of urban growth, Pacific Northwest style – the costs alongside the benefits, the homelessness alongside the new construction, the traffic alongside the cold-brewed coffee and hoppy beer.

We’re evolving, changing from the kind of place where a railroad divides the town to one that figures out ways to bridge that divide. Changing from the kind of place that complains about the streets to one that fixes them.

It may be time to retire that whole “Spokane Doesn’t Suck” thing – which was always my least favorite expression of civic positivity anyway. At some point, it simply doesn’t work anymore, because there’s no reason to go around insisting that something doesn’t suck when it truly doesn’t suck. A more self-confident civic slogan for our T-shirts and coffee mugs and hashtags is probably the newer one: Keep Spokane Kind of Gross.

Truly, though, we can accommodate both attitudes. We’re large! We contain multitudes! Our changes are no longer so singular; our successes not always so solitary. There’s been a lot of not-sucking going on. And, to my eyes, you can’t find a better representative pairing than the new arch and the old hotel, because they reflect two crucial parts of the renaissance: Public investment in connections, and private investment in revitalizing seemingly forgotten places.

The first part of that equation became much more concrete last week when the new arch that will loom over the Carl Maxey Memorial Bridge appeared against the sky for the first time. You can see it from all over, and by the time the project is finished this fall, the arch and cables streaming from it will make an even more prominent impression.

(Carl Maxey Memorial Bridge, by the way, is not the bridge’s official name; the bridge’s official name, the University District Gateway Bridge, is infuriatingly no name at all, just kind of a description or subcommittee agenda item, really, and one seemingly generated by robots intent on maximizing its dullness and can therefore be ignored, I believe, in favor of whatever name you prefer, and I prefer the Maxey Bridge.)

The bridge will connect the growing U-District with East Sprague in a way that will truly change the way the city lives. As it is now, East Sprague has about as much of a relationship with the University District as it does with Athol. Such has been the division those rail lines create. When the bridge is done, though, it will make the Riverpoint campus a short walk to East Sprague, and vice versa.

It will literally create new neighbors.

Meanwhile downtown, the revival of the Ridpath moves toward a reality. The renovation of the main tower into apartments – the ambitious vision of developer Ron Wells – proceeds in the former space of the main hotel. Across Sprague at the old hotel annex, demolition has been ongoing since March.

The annex is owned by Washington Trust Bank. The bank has not announced any plans for the space, but is in the middle of removing four interior floors, after which it will renovate and put a roof over the structure. Katy Wagnon, the communications and public relations manager for the bank, said the plan is for that work to be finished by August.

And then? The rumors include a wide range of possibilities, from the fanciful (a Whole Foods) to the practical (bank offices). Wagnon said, “We don’t have a plan yet.”

It’s evolving.

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