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

Shade, lighting options becoming clearer in new U.S. Pavilion

The future of a signature piece of Spokane’s skyline is already partially visible above the U.S. Pavilion, with a clearer picture expected later this summer.

Park officials are testing six illumination panels after sundown this week. They hang from the exposed netting of Expo ’74’s main gathering place. And later this month, the Spokane Park Board will receive a final concept for shading beneath the structure, which calls for hanging fabric panels in the netting on the western side of the 44-year-old landmark. Those panels will provide cover to a mobile stage below in the summer months. The stage can be used for events such as Bloomsday, Hoopfest and Pig Out in the Park when the remodeled pavilion reopens next year.

“It’s been fun,” said Keith Comes, principal with the firm NAC Architecture, which is part of the team designing and building the $16.5 million renovation of the attraction as part of the larger overhaul of Riverfront Park. “I think we’re getting to a really amazing place with the pavilion.”

Illumination and covering for the new pavilion were part of the 2014 plan pitched to voters to justify taxpayers spending $64 million to revitalize Spokane’s downtown park. There was some consternation at City Hall last summer about proposals that left bare the structure’s netting, which has been exposed since 1979, when wind and snow damage to the existing canvas cover prompted removal due to safety concerns.

Worries over the lack of a cover, specifically from City Council President Ben Stuckart, prompted the Park Board to add city lawmakers and representatives of the mayor’s office to a team of high-level decision-makers overseeing the park’s redevelopment. That team received a briefing Monday morning on the new plans above the pavilion floor.

Stuckart said Wednesday he believed the shading option was the best the city could hope for with the available budget of $700,000.

“While it’s not a cover like we talked about, in the hot times of the day, it will provide the shade that’s needed,” Stuckart said.

The design team, which includes NAC, Garco Construction, the Berger Partnership and THEVERYMANY Studio in Brooklyn, New York, has been working with Oregon-based firm Guildworks to create the material that could be safely hung from the pavilion’s netting. The team had cautioned park board members last summer a study of whether the netting could be re-sheathed to resemble its Expo appearance could cost half a million dollars and might end with the project being impossible to safely build.

U.S. Pavilion shade coverage (NAC Architecture )
U.S. Pavilion shade coverage (NAC Architecture )

“We’ve gone through so many iterations, and lots of feasibility alleyways, that have closed off some options,” said Ted McGregor, publisher of the Inlander and the park board member overseeing the committee handling the redevelopment. “We’re kind of at a thing that everybody on the executive team feels good about.”

The new design abandons previous plans that would have tethered material to the central mast rising from the pavilion’s floor and the existing administration building on the floor’s western edge. The building has been gutted to make way for skybox viewing of concerts and an open entryway into the new structure.

Instead, the material – a mix of plastics and fabric – will be hung to the existing cables using a series of rods.

“We have enough information, based on the analysis of the existing structure, that we know we can answer the shading question now,” Comes said.

Comes’ team is recommending a version of the material that has a life span of between 30 and 40 years, with a 15-year warranty. The panels will be pulled taut to reduce snow, ice and wind loads, he said, and they will remain hanging throughout the year.

McGregor acknowledged that this created an asymmetrical look to the pavilion’s roof, with shade panels on the west and a bare bones look on the east side.

“It’s a trade-off,” McGregor said. “It’s got an elegant look with nothing on it. But that’s where the shade’s needed.”

Planners have not said exactly how much fabric the $700,000 budgeted for shade features could buy, but concept images have been created that are “real close” to the amount of shading on the pavilion floor, said Clancy Welsh, president of Garco Construction. Concept images include enough of the panels to completely cover the stage area in what McGregor called “dappled, floral-like” shade patterns during Spokane’s main summertime events.

About $2 million more has been set aside in the project’s budget for the illumination panels, which will be strung all over the pavilion’s netting, including in areas with the shade panels. A prototype “blade” that was shown last fall has been replaced with an off-the-shelf device produced by the firm GVA Lighting that weighs less.

The city is testing six types of panels, varying in length and composition, said Fianna Dickson, a spokeswoman with the city. Those trials will last at least this week, and curious onlookers can see them hanging on the southern edge of the pavilion by climbing the Clocktower Meadow to the chain-link fence surrounding the construction.

“We’re trying some with a smooth surface, and an etched surface, to see what reflects the light the best,” Dickson said. So far, the etched version appears to be the preferred option, she said.

The Parks Department released a promotional video Monday that showed some ideas of what type of lighting could be achieved with the blades, including cascading shades of red, white and blue for the Fourth of July holiday.

“It would be cool to have sort of a built-in light show,” McGregor said. “But also have lights that are there, beautiful, and not in-your-face, not turning up the music to full blast the whole time.”

Dickson said the shading and light options would be presented to the park board as part of a monthly update delivered to the Park Board on the park redevelopment process. McGregor said he believed the board would get a chance to sign off on the design plans at a meeting later this summer.

Demolition inside the pavilion has been completed, Welsh said. Crews are waiting on permits from the city to begin laying the dirt that will form the terraced seating of the amphitheater-like space within that is expected to hold more than 3,000 people for large concerts. Getting approval of the shading elements, which will be among the last features built in the new structure, will give the team certainty moving forward, Welsh said.

“We’re looking to move forward,” he said.