Five buildings at the old city fleet complex are being demolished, according to city permit data.
The 5-acre industrial site at 127 W. Mission Ave. was used for more than a century as the maintenance facility for the city’s vehicle fleet but was sold for $2.7 million to a private developer in 2018.
The Normandie site, as it was long called by the city, takes up two full city blocks and is envisioned to be a “neighborhood-centered urban village” by the developer, Liquidation Holdings Co., a subsidiary of RenCorp Realty, which is owned by Chris Batten.
Ryan Ray, with RLR Demolition, said the older brick buildings are being kept but his company is taking out the long concrete building facing Mission, two others on the west side of the site and two on the northeast corner.
“The two big buildings, the Quonset hutlike things, are basically done,” Ray said. “They’re keeping the older brick ones down the center.”
The Normandie site has been used for a variety reasons by the city over the decades, including vehicle maintenance, storage and printing. Following the 2015 construction of the $16.5 million Spokane Central Service Center in the Chief Garry neighborhood, the city moved its fleet and street operations there and surplussed the Normandie property. The city acquired the land in 1899 from John J. Browne, a businessman from Portland who helped found the city of Spokane and his namesake neighborhood, Browne’s Addition. The city paid him $1 for the land.
The long concrete building on the west end of the site facing Mission is connected to an older brick building constructed in 1912 to house the city’s automobiles. This brick building, which is not being demolished, was built to house the city’s first four automobiles: one each for the health department, fire chief, the engineering department and the board of public works.
“The city’s chauffeurs will themselves care for the machines when the new building is finished,” said a September 1910 Spokane Daily Chronicle article.
The longer concrete section, which is coming down, was built in 1915 for $7,524. The garage was built for the fleet services division of the city maintenance crews, and it was built by George Groshoff, a prominent brick mason and contractor in Spokane. Groshoff is best known for designing and building the Groshoff Apartments in Peaceful Valley, according to a Historic Property Report prepared by the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.
Megan Duvall, the city and county historic preservation officer, said the buildings are not on historic registers and are not protected.
While the site’s past is well documented, the future of the site near North Central High School is uncertain. Calls to Batten were not returned.
In November, Dry Fly Distilling said it planned to move its whiskey, bourbon, gin and vodka operations to the Normandie site, into the building directly across Sinto Avenue from the North Bowl bowling alley. Those efforts fell through, and now Dry Fly plans to move downtown to The Spokesman-Review’s press building on Monroe Street after the newspaper moves printing operations to an industrial park in Spokane Valley.
The press building is owned by Cowles Real Estate Co., which is owned by Cowles Co. The Spokesman-Review also is a subsidiary of Cowles Co.
The Normandie land is known to have significant issues with pollution stemming from its century-long use as a vehicle maintenance facility. An environmental report of the site done in 2016 reflects the pollution such use can leave behind. Petroleum contaminated soil and oil stains were found in many locations, and numerous underground storage tanks are still buried there, most of which are in unknown locations. Also, a used car lot once operated on the premises along with two lumber mills on adjacent properties.
Batten owns or partly owns a number of buildings around town. The two-level former Huppin’s building on Main Avenue was purchased and redeveloped into restaurants for $1.25 million in 2013 by a trio of business owners that included Batten. They also own the building next door that housed Dutch’s Musical Instruments. Batten is part owner of the Numerica building on Riverside Avenue and Stevens Street.
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