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

Spokane leaders highlight wins, challenges facing downtown

Emilie Cameron, president and CEO of the Spokane Downtown Partnership, speaks June 14 at the Spokane Convention Center during its annual state of downtown address.   (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Representatives from some of the area’s most influential organizations discussed what is working and what isn’t for downtown Spokane on Friday at the Spokane Convention Center.

“This is a one-of-a-kind convention center experience, and this is a one-of-a-kind downtown experience,” said Emilie Cameron, president and CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership. “And it is because of the businesses, the people and the places that make it great.”

Cameron used some of her stage time to explain to those organizations that fund its work what the partnership has accomplished in the past year.

Using donor money, the Partnership employs cleanup crews that parole the city’s core, and its workers advocate for downtown businesses and lobby its agenda to local and state jurisdictions .

Some of its largest donors that have representation on its board of directors are Washington Trust Bank, Avista and Cowles Co., which owns the Spokesman-Review.

Cameron mentioned the completion of construction projects like the One Spokane Stadium and the Post Street and the South Suspension Pedestrian bridges. She also mentioned a grant program that paid for the costs to upgrade storefronts.

Cameron then pointed to legislative achievements, including her organization’s support for Senate Bill 6175, which went into effect earlier this month to incentivize the redevelopment of commercial buildings into affordable housing.

“Thank you to all the Spokane delegation in supporting SB 6175 – this was a priority of the DSP this year,” she said. “Office vacancies are now up to 20% in downtown … reducing barriers to converting underutilized buildings into housing is key to our future. We need to ask ourselves: ‘What it is going to take to get 1,000 units in downtown in the next five years?’”

But it wasn’t all fun and fine dining. Cameron spoke frankly about downtown hardships.

“There is no masking the visible misery and suffering at the gateways of our city. The impact of drugs in our communities is affecting the most vulnerable, and it is draining our response system,” she said. “Today, an overwhelming majority of overdoses are happening on the downtown streets in the cities across our state. Washington now leads the nation in fatal fentanyl overdoses, and in Spokane calls are now up 30% – mostly in downtown.”

To combat crime and housing insecurity, Cameron called for support of legislation like Senate Bill 5536, which created new penalties for people found to possess or publicly use illegal drugs.

She also called for the removal of downtown homeless shelters, a proposition that is supported by Mayor Lisa Brown.

Brown took the stage and spoke about an emergency order her administration and city officials worked together to initiate that will result in opening a new homeless shelter, she said.

“The council unanimously approved my emergency order on the opioid fentanyl crisis,” Brown said. “What that emergency order allows us to do is to move more quickly, because government processes don’t typically move very fast.”

Brown is a Downtown Spokane Partnership board director and said the relationship between the city and the organization is “strong.”

“We are in constant communication across all leadership in the city,” Brown said.

Brown illuminated recent accomplishments of city workers like the addition of a new homeless outreach team. She also teased that a finalist for the city’s selection of a new Spokane Police chief will be announced next week.