Avista Corp. has proposed transforming Upriver Drive between Mission Avenue and North Center Street into Spokane’s newest waterfront park. It’s an idea worth pursuing.
By now, the benefits of encouraging active uses along the Spokane River should be obvious. Anyone who has seen the crowds enjoying Riverfront Park and the Centennial Trail on a sunny afternoon know that they draw residents and visitors alike. They are places to recreate, to relax, to enjoy the river, even just to do some yoga on a Saturday morning.
Riverfront Park wasn’t always what it is today. Voters in 2014 approved a $64 million bond to fix up a park that had gotten rough around the edges since Expo ’74. The city had a vision that now is blossoming.
Avista’s vision – dubbed Upriver Park – won’t be on the same scale. It will be smaller, a linear greenspace on the north bank of the river.
But even a small park can have a big impact, starting with the Centennial Trail. When the trail reaches that area, it disappears on the north bank. Pedestrians and bicyclists must share Upriver Drive with cars a few hundred yards before regaining their safe trail.
To remedy that and make Upriver Park work, Avista wants to close Upriver Drive. All that would remain would be the trail. Vehicles would have to take Indiana or some other detour.
That’s fine for park space and multimodal travel, but it won’t make the four or five thousand drivers who use that street most days happy. Traffic engineering is not an insurmountable challenge, but it is a challenge that must be addressed openly and with engagement of all stakeholders.
Fortunately, Avista has embraced transparency from the start.. The company has scheduled an initial community meeting for Wednesday night (5:30 at Avista headquarters, 141 E. Mission Ave.) to share its concept for Upriver Park and to start what will be a long conversation.
Filling a gap in the Centennial Trail is just one advantage that the public and city officials should consider as they weigh the pros and cons of a new park. Another is river access.
River access currently is concentrated primarily in the downtown area and downstream. Upriver Park would create valuable access for recreation in an underserved part of the city. The east side has many residential neighborhoods, but less public park access to the water until past Upriver Dam.
The vision for Upriver Park therefore specifically includes water access so that paddle boarders and other low-impact recreational users can get out on the river. The proximity of Witter Aquatic Center also could provide synergy for people who want to have easy access to pool, park and river.
A park also would be a smart investment for future growth. The Spokane City Council recently expanded the multifamily tax exemption zone, and the expansion area includes both sides of the river upstream from about the Iron Bridge. That includes the proposed park site. If developers take advantage of the tax breaks for building or rehabilitating housing with four or more units, residential density will increase. Those new residents will benefit from having a nearby park where they can recreate or just unwind for a few minutes.
The obvious question, then, is what does Avista get out of all this? Besides being next to Avista’s headquarters, the park helps to meet relicensing requirements from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to increase recreation use on the river.
Maybe Upriver Park won’t work. Maybe nearby roads can’t handle the traffic that would divert onto them. Maybe there are as yet unknown hurdles that will bring the plan to a halt.
But if it does work, Spokane could gain something special, and that’s worth investing some community time and effort to figure out. Avista has shared an exciting vision. Let’s all see if it can become reality.
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