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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘There’s all these added layers of amazing’: Newly renovated U.S. Pavilion gets its debut

After a $22.6-million makeover, the U.S. Pavilion in Riverfront Park will have its grand on Friday night. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
After a $22.6-million makeover, the U.S. Pavilion in Riverfront Park will have its grand on Friday night. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Nothin’ but net.

Spokane Parks and Recreation feels like it has scored big with the newly-renovated U.S. Pavilion, which declutters the iconic Riverfront Park centerpiece and emphasizes the structure’s open netting that spirals into an off-center cone 150 feet in the air.

“The net is so cool, but there was so much stuff you could hardly see it,” said Guy Michaelsen of Berger Partnership, who served as the project’s lead landscape architect. “We stripped away everything, all the other buildings that were in here, and said it’s all about the net.”

The Pavilion reopens to the public on Friday after a $24.6 million renovation that began in early 2018 with a two-day celebration that begins at 4 p.m. The weekend’s slate of free events will include a number of musical performances from a variety of contemporary artists and the Spokane Symphony.

Both nights will be capped off with a light show.

“It’s giving a taste to the community of the different types of events that we can have,” said interim Parks Director Garrett Jones. “It’s really about creating memories. This is a great venue. It’s architecturally amazing, but it’s also about the events that are happening here. That’s what I’m most excited about.”

Constructed for Expo ’74, the new pavilion maintains its character while providing modern, usable space for performance and community events. It was originally intended as a temporary structure but has become a permanent feature of the city’s architectural repertoire.

“We knew early on that this type of iconic architectural art piece, you’re not going to find anywhere else. How do we work with it, and then enhance it, but don’t lose that historic nature?” Jones said.

To Michaelsen and his design team, the pavilion stood out as an amazing icon of Spokane.

“But then you’d get here and you’d be like, ‘Ugh.’ It was a disappointment,” Michaelsen said. “The experience when you got here was not as good as the experience when you were outside.”

The mantra for the design team was that the experience within the pavilion had to exceed the experience from afar.

The updated design removes much of the clutter from the pavilion, which included the Ice Palace and other outbuildings. About 80% of the pavilion is now a park setting, featuring an “elevated experience” – the result of truckloads of soil brought in to create an embankment on the pavilion’s east side. From that high point, an elevated walkway stretches out into the center of the pavilion, offering visitors a 360-degree view they’ve never had before.

“There’s all these added layers of amazing. It just gets better and better,” Michaelsen said.

The pavilion has always stood adjacent to the Spokane River, but it hasn’t always been so easy to tell.

The new, open design “opens up this space that was traditionally a concrete jungle, very cold, and didn’t feel parklike” and adds “a connection back to the river,” Jones said.

The netting that envelops the pavilion provided the perfect backbone for a lighting array, which park leaders hope will draw more people into Riverfront Park and the pavilion. On the west side of the netting, the design was adjusted to include 72 panels that will provide shade from the harsh summer sun during early evening hours and dot the pavilion floor with a unique shade pattern.

“When you have that glaring sun, this helps diffuse that, and also it’s a beautiful architectural component,” Jones said.

The lights piercing the Spokane skyline on evenings this weekend are a reflection of work that began in 2012 when city officials began to consider the first substantial capital investment in Riverfront Park since Expo ’74.

After searching for and receiving substantial community input, a master plan was developed in 2014 and voters approved a $64.5 million bond to fund a plethora of projects within the park later that year. With grants and other partnerships, the project budget has increased to about $72 million.

The pavilion serves as a gathering place and the “lantern” of the community, Jones said.

“For the pavilion, it was about how do we draw people back into the center of the park,” Jones said. “We’ve historically had difficulties activating the center of the park.”

Jones envisions the pavilion being used by major events such as Hoopfest and Pig Out in the Park and for powwows, graduations and a wide spectrum of other community events. Depending on the event, the pavilion floor can hold about 1,500 people and the whole facility can fit about 4,000 to 4,500 people altogether.

“This gives us a dynamic platform and canvas to be able to move events in and out quickly and have this activated space,” Jones said.

In addition to hosting events, Michaelsen said it was important that the pavilion be an awesome place to be every day, say, for a picnic.

“Most of the time, there’s not going to be an event. That’s the cool thing. You should never get here and feel like the park is closed. We didn’t want anyone to ever feel like this is a hollow, not-valued space,” Michaelsen said.

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