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Avista delays conversion of Upriver Drive stretch into park until 2021

UPDATED: Fri., May 8, 2020

The proposal by Avista to close a section of Upriver Drive, from Mission Avenue to N. Center Street, and turn the treed Spokane River waterfront by the Avista campus into a public park is on hold until 2021. The proposed park would enhance the Centennial Trail through the area and give the public more waterfront access. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The proposal by Avista to close a section of Upriver Drive, from Mission Avenue to N. Center Street, and turn the treed Spokane River waterfront by the Avista campus into a public park is on hold until 2021. The proposed park would enhance the Centennial Trail through the area and give the public more waterfront access. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Avista still plans to build a neighborhood park along the Spokane River, but its construction has been delayed until 2021.

In the meantime, the utility company will continue the design and permitting process for the park, which will lie adjacent to its corporate headquarters on Mission Avenue.

Recently, Avista mailed neighborhood residents a notice on the project’s progress and solicited public comment – which remains open until May 25 – on its shoreline development permit application to the city of Spokane.

Had it not been for delays in permitting and the uncertainties brought to the construction industry by the coronavirus, Avista expected to begin work on the park project this month. But now its focus in 2020 will be on acquiring all of the requisite permits and completing the park’s design, according to Bruce Howard, Avista’s director of environmental affairs.

The company said the impetus of the Upriver Park project was to provide improved access to the Spokane River.

But in closing off a section of Upriver Drive, Avista saw a greater potential, creating a neighborhood park that would allow not only anglers and paddleboarders a connection to the river but also give neighborhood residents a safe park to walk through and enjoy.

The Centennial Trail, which runs along the narrow shoulder of Upriver Drive, will be realigned and expanded to a width of 12 feet. The overgrown vegetation lining the banks of the river will be scaled back and replaced with native plantings.

“It checked a lot of boxes,” Howard said of the project.

Avista has seen increased interest in paddleboarding in this section of the river, which is close to downtown and several neighborhoods. Under its federal license, Avista is obligated to provide continued access to the river.

When it’s complete, the park will replace the section of Upriver Drive between Mission Avenue and North Center Street.

Delaying the park’s construction until 2021 will allow it to be done in a single season, minimizing its impact on the neighborhood and improving cost efficiency.

“When we do mobilize to do that construction, we want to be able to get the park done and made available as quickly as possible,” Howard said.

The Spokane Transit Authority began work on its rapid transit City Line this month and will add new stops on Mission Avenue near the Upriver Park footprint in September. Avista will benefit by allowing STA to complete work on its nearby stations before the utility starts work on Upriver Park, Howard said.

The project already received a public vetting when Avista successfully petitioned the city to vacate Upriver Drive and make way for the park.

At a public hearing held by the City Council, several residents of neighborhoods to the east and north of Upriver Drive expressed concern about the impact the road’s closure would have on their commute.

Some residents of the Riverview Retirement Community on Upriver Drive also voiced concerns about how the road’s closure would impact accessibility into their neighborhood.

“We’re trying to stay connected to all of those folks,” Howard said.

Avista is continuing to assess the design of the intersection between North Center Street and Upriver Drive.

“That intersection needs to work really well as the main arterial flow,” Howard said.

To address concerns about traffic backups at the nearby intersection of Mission Avenue and North Perry Street, Avista is working with the city to optimize the traffic light cycle, which is currently on a timer.

Comment on the shoreline development permit can be emailed to Tami Palmquist, a principal planner with the city of Spokane, at tpalmquist@spokanecity.org.

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