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Sunday, July 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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I-90 Pale Ale: City to plant hops along Interstate 90 wall on Fourth Avenue

Ripe hop flowers hang from hop plants. (AP)
Ripe hop flowers hang from hop plants. (AP)

Dean Gunderson, an urban planner for the city of Spokane, said he can’t wait to enjoy an I-90 Pale Ale, but maintained sipping a beer made with locally grown hops is only one of the wins of a plan to create a “living wall” along a downtown stretch of Interstate 90.

The hop plants – alternated with ivy varieties – will cover about 300 feet of the 600-foot wall running along Fourth Avenue between Wall Street and Lincoln Street near MultiCare Deaconess Hospital, Gunderson said. The city will plant the hops near an I-90 gateway into downtown in the spring, and a local nonprofit will harvest the crop in the fall.

The seed of the plan to grow hops was meant as a joke. Omar Akkari, then a city urban designer, suggested that rather than a mural, the city try planting a living thing to deter graffiti on the oft-tagged area To that, Gunderson said, “Why not hops?”

Gunderson discovered hops are one of Washington Department of Transportation’s preapproved plant options.

The harvesting and maintenance of the hops was seen as an obstacle, so Gunderson approached the Spokane Edible Tree Project, or SETP, hoping the volunteer-run organization would take on the labor and donate the hops to local brewers in return for a percentage of the sales from highway-hopped beers.

“Spokane has not had a good history of being able to provide that ongoing landscape maintenance, especially along I-90,” Gunderson said. “By partnering with a nonprofit who can come in and provide that necessary maintenance, then it’s a product that has value to that organization to help underwrite some of their costs for their other efforts.”

SETP – formed by city Councilwoman Kate Burke in 2013 – picks fruit from local trees and donates it to food banks, among other efforts. Burke had not envisioned this specific partnership at the organization’s inception, but this is the type of work she hoped SETP would be able to take on.

“This is another level of using space and our existing resources to better the community,” Burke said. “It’s a cool project, a cool partnership, and then it also brings to light this nonprofit that’s doing really cool work.”

Operators of Bellwether Brewing, which in the past has used fruit from SETP – such as plums for a plum ale – hope to receive some of the I-90 hops.

“I really enjoy working with them, and I enjoy seeing what they’re doing with stuff,” said Randy Baker, Bellwether’s head brewer. “It really gets that local, low-waste situation promoted.”

Gunderson said he was nervous because many stakeholders had signed off on the plan, but he still hadn’t run it past then-Mayor David Condon.

“He just thought it was brilliant,” Gunderson said. “He thought it was funny, and that it would be so Spokane.”

One more hurdle to clear was running the idea past the outreach coordinator for MultiCare. Gunderson worried that the health care company might object to the plant choice since it would be used in the production of alcohol.

“He thought it was great,” Gunderson said. “He thought that maybe if Spokane Edible is looking for volunteers to help perform the hops harvest, maybe nurses and doctors at the hospital may want to be involved.”

Both Deaconess and the Washington State Department of Transportation provided $10,000 grants for the gateway, but the city funded much of the $375,620 project – which includes the Maple gateway project – through parking meter revenue.

“Spokane residents are hopefully going to feel a little better about the money that they spend on on-street parking if they fully comprehend that we do as much as we can with the revenue in the parking system to invest in gateway and landscape improvements,” said Andrew Rolwes, Downtown Spokane Partnership vice president of public policy and parking.

The parking advisory committee decides which projects are funded with meter revenue, but Rolwes said the initial idea to use parking receipts for downtown beautification and improvement projects came from the case study “Turning Small Change Into Big Changes” in Pasadena, California.

The wrecking ball took down many historic buildings in a neighborhood called “Old Pasadena,” and business owners got together to formulate a plan to generate money for downtown improvements that would allow them to preserve the neighborhood.

“Ultimately, over time they turned their parking meter investments into one of California’s most sought after, upscale shopping districts for Los Angeles,” Rolwes said.

Aside from the gateway projects, parking meter revenue has paid for landscaping projects throughout the city, such as tree replacement, tree lighting and curbside planters.

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