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Northwest Passages: Spokane Parks Director Garrett Jones on Riverfront Park’s near-complete renovation

Spokane Parks Director Garrett Jones discusses Riverfront Park's redevelopment with Spokesman-Review reporter Kip Hill as part of a Northwest Passages virtual forum on Thursday, March 4, 2021.   (S-R)
Spokane Parks Director Garrett Jones discusses Riverfront Park's redevelopment with Spokesman-Review reporter Kip Hill as part of a Northwest Passages virtual forum on Thursday, March 4, 2021.  (S-R)

The final piece of Riverfront Park’s taxpayer-funded renovation is slated to open in late spring or early summer, and the availability of its Ice Age-themed features could be affected by the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Spokane Parks Director Garrett Jones said on Thursday.

“At the same time, we also don’t want to have this beautiful, new, shiny amenity that the citizens have paid for, and our partners have paid for, and it’s behind a fence, and it’s ready to go,” Jones said in an interview, part of a Northwest Passages Virtual Forum that can be seen in its entirety online. “It might be a phased approach as well, to open that up. But we’ll see.”

Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review

Completion of the $9.4 million complex, including a regional playground, skate park, splash pad, outdoor basketball court and climbing wall, will round out the five projects citizens voted to restore as part of a $64 million bond ask in 2014. Previously completed projects include the Numerica Skate Ribbon and SkyRide, the Looff Carrousel, the central promenades and the U.S. Pavilion.

The pandemic also slowed the unveiling of the true potential of the pavilion, by far the largest investment the department has made in the revamp. A planned concert series, Hoopfest and other events were delayed just months after a grand opening that brought hundreds under the illuminated netting to the sounds of the Spokane Symphony.

“It was tough. It was really tough at first, as well,” Jones said. “But we’ve learned, and we’re just adapting and being very flexible.”

As of now, a concert series is set to kick off inside the Pavilion on July 22 with headliners folk/rock/reggae outfit Slightly Stoopid, followed by Primus on Aug. 13. Both acts were scheduled to play the Pavilion in 2020.

While crews have been working on the new parts of the park, the department has also been planning to repair what’s there with money beyond the bonds that taxpayers approved. That includes the replacement of the Expo ‘74 butterfly destroyed by January’s windstorm.

“We’re committed, one way or another, as far as figuring out what that replacement is,” Jones said. “We’ve already started that process, really digging into what happened, why did it happen, and what advancements can we make to make sure that does not happen again?”

Jones said the park is working on what he called a “2.0” version of the butterfly. It would incorporate the movement of actual butterflies and other engineering enhancements to keep gusts from toppling the structure, as they did this January and in February 1995.

Another project not part of the bond that is slated for completion this year is a renovation of the pedestrian footbridge over the upper falls. Built during the Expo, it was closed in April 2019 over concerns about the safety of the bridge’s walking surface, or deck.

The Parks Department began soliciting bids this week for work to repair the bridge. The Parks Department will start with the northernmost bridge, then move to the southern bridge, which remains open.

“This year. We’re crossing our fingers,” Jones said. “We’re hoping we get good bids back.”

The southern bridge won’t likely be repaired until after 2021.

While some of the programs will continue to remain limited due to health and safety concerns, the reopening of the carrousel and welcoming guests back to the skating ribbon during the summer months should give visitors an indication of what Riverfront Park will be heading into its next 50 years, Jones said.

“The biggest success is the experiences and memories that our citizens and tourists have in the park,” Jones said.

Writer Kip Hill conducted the Northwest Passages interview that was the basis for this story.

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