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Monday, October 14, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘This will truly be the gathering place’: U.S. Pavilion delights crowd at official opening

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 6, 2019, 10:08 p.m.

The light show begins during the opening of the newly renovated U.S. Pavilion on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, at Riverfront Park in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The light show begins during the opening of the newly renovated U.S. Pavilion on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, at Riverfront Park in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

As red lights filled the U.S. Pavilion on Friday night, the crowd screamed in delight, children stood in awe and a few couples danced their way through the Spokane landmark’s official opening night light show.

After years of planning and work to rehab and reinvent the structure that was completed 45 years ago, elected officials and Spokane Parks Board members marked the occasion with a ribbon-cutting and speeches.

“The pavilion has a special role in connecting us to the river,” said Mayor David Condon in his speech.

Condon touted the pavilion as “enhancing the health and vitality of our city.”

He also spoke to the history of the pavilion, which was built as a temporary structure for Expo ’74.

As part of the Riverfront Park Redevelopment bond, the $24.6 million renovation of the structure began in 2018.

The renovated pavilion is uncovered, allowing views of the city and access to the public on a daily basis, not just for events.

Spokane Tribal Council Chairwoman Carol Evans offered a tribal blessing at the event.

“My ancestors were river people,” Evans said.

She spoke about the tribal history of salmon finishing in the area and the Gathering at the Falls Powow.

“Today, I am so very thankful that the Spokane Park Board involves us,” Evans said.

After the blessing, tribal members led a “happy dance,” during which attendees stood in a circle holding hands and dancing. The activity was a chance to exchange cultures and connect with the tribal roots of the riverfront area.

People milled about as The Cronkites set up and started playing classic rock.

“It’s beyond expectations,” said Jennifer Ogden, a member of the park board.

As construction progressed, the pavilion felt bigger and bigger each visit, Ogden said.

“It’s what we wanted,” Ogden said. “It will be where the community comes and hangs out.”

The community seemed to be excited about their new hangout as people walked up the large concrete steps on one side of the pavilion and children rolled around on the grass.

“It wouldn’t be Spokane without it,” said attendee Jac Archer.

Toward the end of the evening, the new elevated walkway had a line forming at the entrances. The capacity is 84 people, and the walkway is intentionally a little bouncy.

“It’s awesome,” said Norma Behrens, who came to check out the pavilion with her husband, Rudy.

“We just wanted to see it,” Behrens said.

The Behrenses came to the pavilion for the first time during Expo ’74 with their young children.

“Now we probably appreciate it a little more,” Behrens said.

After the band played its last song, the light show took off. Music blared as the light panels in the netting of the pavilion flashed in time with the music.

The light show left attendee Beverly Burbank nearly speechless.

“This is a real happy night,” she said.

Heading down to Riverfront Park has become one of her favorite activities as the renovations around the park come to a close.

“I take the bus downtown to the park a lot because I’m retired and I have a bus pass,” Burbank said.

With a big smile, Burbank turned back to watching the lights.

Interim Parks Director Garrett Jones was smiling for a different reason.

“It’s blown every expectation I had,” Jones said. “It’s a very surreal and humbling night.”

After all his duties were over, Jones got some mac and cheese and stood watching the light show like the crowd around him.

“This will truly be the gathering place,” Jones said. “I’m lucky to be a part of it.”

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