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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Riverside construction downtown sparks excitement, concern from business owners

By Mathew Callaghan The Spokesman-Review

The torn-up road, coupled with orange and white roadblocks, have been greeting business owners and employees along West Riverside Avenue downtown each morning over the past several months.

The work has left some employers and employees along the stretch of downtown road excited about the future, while also concerned about the present interruptions to transportation and parking.

The Riverside construction project, which is rebuilding the downtown road to create new bike and rapid-transit bus features, has been divided into three phases to try to mitigate the negative effects of construction. Construction is in the second phase, which is expected to end this month. The cost of the project is an estimated $4 million.

Kirstin Davis, communications manager for Spokane’s Public Works division, said construction is set to wrap up between the middle and end of November.

The project will reduce traffic lanes from four to three, implement a new bike lane, perform a grind and overlay of the existing road from Division to Wall, replace the main waterline and other services that need fixing, restripe the road from Wall to Monroe and set up a bus stop to accommodate STA’s new City Line.

Davis said when it’s done Riverside will return to its roots of being the premier street of downtown Spokane.

Cody Miller, owner of The Daily Grind Downtown, a coffee shop on the second floor of the Paulsen Center, said he is excited to see how construction changes Riverside Avenue.

“I’m glad they’re doing it,” Miller said, “because Riverside’s been such a mess for such a long time.”

Miller said his business has not been affected much because the majority of his customers also work in the Paulsen Center. Miller said the number of construction workers coming up for food and beverage has been a plus.

“We haven’t seen it (construction) affect our business in a negative way, other than affecting parking and our vendors,” Miller said.

Miller’s concern about parking availability and certain commercial loading zones no longer existing is shared by other businesses.

Bliss Hair Studio employee, Mike Meyers, said almost everyone is five to 15 minutes late to their appointment because of the lack of available parking. Apart from that, business has remained the same. People can’t differentiate between the areas where they are allowed to park and the areas where only the construction crews can park, Meyers said.

“Just the parking seems to be a little problematic,” Meyers said. “They’ve been trying to keep us in the loop of what they’re doing the best they can, because they don’t really know what’s going on day by day either.”

“There’s obviously several public lots,” Davis said, addressing challenges people might face with finding parking. “There are metered areas throughout downtown. So, I guess it would be kind of dependent on what you feel like is convenient parking. For some people, it’s walking two blocks. For some people, it’s walking six blocks. For some people, it’s walking 20 feet.”

Other businesses, like Dania Furniture, have seen a drastic reduction in the number of customers coming in and out, and not just because of parking.

“It definitely has slowed down a bit, especially with, you know, our address on Riverside,” said Nikole Sankari-Smith, a store manager at Dania Furniture on Riverside between Washington and Bernard streets.

“We’re definitely a purpose-driven business, because people come in for a specific thing they’re looking for or, you know, looking to furnish a house, those kinds of things,” Sankari-Smith said. “They will take the extra time and effort to maybe look at other options for parking or access.”

“It is summer,” she added. “So that could be part of the slowdown, too.”

Success on the strip during construction seems to depend on what kind of clientele the business is attracting.

“We haven’t really noticed a difference. We’re kind of a destination store,” said Jesse McCauley, manager of Petunia and Loomis, an oddities shop that offers a wide array of merchandise including antiques and curry-flavored crickets.

Sam Fetters, the owner of Petunia and Loomis, said they’ve actually had the most business since their opening in January. Petunia and Loomis’s section of road has only been under construction for the past two weeks, Fetters said.

Fetters and McCauley attribute the rise in customers to an expanding inventory and the upcoming Halloween season.

“We were really worried about it (construction). And it has made no difference whatsoever,” Fetters said.

Another small business owner right next to Petunia and Loomis, Jacob Miller, owns Crave, a nightclub and restaurant on Riverside and Washington Street. Miller said his business has been greatly affected from the construction.

“There’s definitely been less people because you cannot drive in front of our business at any point,” Jacob Miller said. “So we’ve lost all of the through traffic that would see us and stop by.”

Miller says he’s excited to see a rejuvenated Riverside Avenue, but more excited to see his business return to normal. Miller said he appreciated how quickly and efficiently the construction crew has been working.

“We’re ready to not have tractors literally surrounding us,” Miller said. “Obviously we want nice new roads, it’d be great for our HoopFest and all that stuff, too. But it’s tough when you need other people to come so you can pay your bills and pay your employees. And that’s not possible for everybody right now.”

Davis said that while construction can be painful for businesses, the city is doing what they can, in partnership with contractors, to keep businesses updated on the progress that’s being made.

“The temporary challenges that they’re experiencing will have a long-term payoff in terms of having a better street around them to access their business,” Davis said, “And then also, especially on Riverside, this is going to be just a really dynamic street with the City Line coming through, bicycle access, all those different things.”

Work to watch for

A pavement replacement project will close lanes on Illinois Avenue between Market Street and Perry Street in northeast Spokane starting Monday.

Illinois will be down to one lane between the two streets, and the southbound turn lane onto Market Street will be closed, as will the northbound turn lane onto Perry Street.

The eastbound curb lane of Northwest Boulevard between Cleveland Avenue and Belt Street will be closed Monday through Sept. 23.

The southbound curb lane of Northwest Boulevard will be closed from Longfellow to Lacresse Street from Monday through Oct. 12.

The eastbound curb lane of 37th Avenue will be closed between Stone and Cook streets from Monday through Oct. 14.

The intersection of Hawthorne Road and Nevada Street, north of the Division Street Wye, will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday for a pavement project.