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

Ridpath finally fulfills new reality, reaches full capacity for first time since 2008

The Ridpath quietly achieved a milestone recently for the first time since the one-time swanky hotel in downtown Spokane closed in 2008: full occupancy.

All 206 units of the Ridpath Club Apartments, 515 W. Sprague Ave., were rented as of March 31. That hadn’t happened since most of the former hotel was converted into affordable-housing units.

“It took a vision and persistence to put this whole thing together,” said Paul Mann, who is one of the primary investors in the Ridpath’s resurgence. “We spent years trying to put the pieces back together.”

Mann and his wife, Janet, live on the 13th floor in a space formerly occupied by Ankeny’s Restaurant.

“It might still be a blight in downtown Spokane if we had not pushed forward on this,” Mann said.

That 15-year journey from hotel to an estimated $30 million remake into full-occupancy apartments included a complex web of condo sales, foreclosures and intervention by the city of Spokane in 2011 after transients began squatting on the property.

Then in 2012, a team of investors including the Manns, Mark Mackin, Ron Wells and Lawrence “Mickey” Brown formed the Ridpath Penthouse LLC and purchased the property for $500,000.

Mann said one of the windows of the 13th floor had been broken out, allowing pigeons to deposit enough droppings “to fertilize the Palouse.”

Vandals had stripped walls of copper wires and piping. Someone had thrown former Ankeny’s dinner plates like frisbees into a wall to smash them.

Yet, most of the rooms, which would become the “micro-units” that make up much of the apartments, remained strangely untouched.

When the new owners opened the doors, the beds were all made, towels were laid out and toiletries were arrayed in the bathrooms, just like the hotel staff left them in 2008.

“They hadn’t been touched in nine years,” Mann said. “It was like the Twilight Zone.”

From the beginning

Originally opened in 1900, the Ridpath was twice destroyed by fires. The first occurred in 1902.

The signature tower that now stands was built in 1952 after a second fire destroyed the hotel in 1950. The rebuild became one of Spokane’s first mid-century modern high-rise buildings, Mann said.

The way it was constructed played a huge role in its future. Every several feet, the builders used cross-beam steel structures and reinforced concrete, Mann said.

“When Walt Worthy redid the Davenport, he just knocked down walls and built the rooms the size he wanted,” Mann said. “This building has enough iron and concrete to survive a nuclear strike.”

As a result, during the remodel most rooms in the Ridpath remained hotel-room size at about 250 square feet.

The Ridpath’s micro-units offer a sleeping/living area that includes a full bath, a two-burner stove, sink, microwave and medium-sized refrigerator. They currently rent for $883 a month.

The corner units on each floor, a total of 36, are larger one-bedroom apartments that also have a washer and dryer. They rent for $946 a month.

The largest studio apartments are $1,500 a month, Mann said. All of them include utilities and free Wi-Fi.

Of the 206 apartments, 182 are rented as affordable housing for low-income residents. The remainder are rented at market rate, he said.

“So, we are probably the single-largest affordable-housing site in the downtown core,” Mann said.

Wells’ will

Remaking the Ridpath was the brainchild of a man who was behind more than 50 historic preservation efforts in Spokane, developer Ron Wells.

“There were three” initial investors, Mann said. “Ron (Wells), Mickey Brown and I. But Ron was the principal. He’s had a huge impact on downtown Spokane over the years.”

Wells, 74, who has battled a series of health setbacks, said it was actually Mickey Brown who got the Ridpath project started.

Brown “was the spark plug that kept the ball rolling on the Ridpath,” Wells said.

Wells still owns nine condos on the 12th floor and about 1,000 square feet of the 13th floor that remain undeveloped.

Mark Mackin, who later joined the ownership team, owns seven condos on the 12th floor and about 1,900 square feet of the 13th floor that are under construction.

The project “was structured as an affordable project for people who get up every day and have a job, or if they are retired with enough income,” Wells said. “We have a lot of really happy tenants who enjoy living there. It was a long hard slog.”

However, Wells was removed from the ownership team in 2019 after he pleaded guilty to nine felonies related to staging a car crash in 2016 in an attempt to defraud insurance companies. As a result of his health problems, Wells was sentenced in February 2020 to serve a year of home arrest.

“It wasn’t an easy project to do because it was so complicated,” Wells said of the Ridpath. “It was a glaring need for Spokane. Housing has become less affordable, so it has only increased the demand for those units.”

My people

Paul and Janet Mann sold their home of 30 years, the famed Nuzum House at 503 W. Sumner Ave. that was built in 1912 and designed by renowned architect Kirtland Cutter, and moved to the 13th floor of the Ridpath.

Standing in one spot in their high-rise home, the Manns have unobstructed views as far east as Canfield Mountain in Coeur d’Alene and northwest to the mountains in Stevens County.

“I am kind of unusual in that I live in an affordable-housing project,” Mann said. “And our friends wonder if we are crazy, but I love it.”

One of his neighbors, Heather Moreau, 52, moved into the Ridpath about a year ago after living for a time at the Union Gospel Mission Crisis Center for Women and Children.

Living downtown “makes it easy to get to and from my doctor appointments and other places,” she said. “It’s a really convenient location.”

After living in one of the micro-units, she was able to upgrade last week to one of the one-bedroom apartments.

“I really do enjoy living here, and the management really does try to keep this a safe and clean environment,” Moreau said. “It’s a nice place.”

Janet Mann, 77, said she loves interacting with her new neighbors.

“Living here, we are a lot more alike than we are different,” she said. “We have common fears and we have common joys. Everybody has a story, if you take time to listen. “

She recalled a lunch with some of her former neighbors on the South Hill when she was asked about living downtown in a building that had once been blighted.

“One of them asked, ‘Aren’t you afraid to live downtown with all ‘those’ people?’ I just said, ‘You forget. Those ARE my people,’ ” she said.

Paul Mann, 76, noted that the Ridpath last year earned the national Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Award that is presented by the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition.

“It’s one thing to talk about affordable housing, but we live it here,” he said. “We can see the difference it makes in people’s lives.”