The looming infusion of human energy into two adjoining properties that help anchor the stately stretch of Riverside Avenue between Monroe and Cedar streets should help refortify that area of Spokane's city center.
That will be good not only for downtown but for the Spokane area overall.
The two properties being updated for exciting new and more intensive uses, as mentioned earlier in separate news reports, are the Civic Building, at 1020 W. Riverside, and the Masonic Center, at 1108 W. Riverside. They're among 13 properties that make up the nationally recognized Riverside Avenue Historic District.
On its website, the Spokane City-County Historic Preservation Office describes that tree-shaded stretch of Riverside just west of the iconic Spokesman-Review tower and the 10-story Thomas S. Foley U.S. Courthouse as "undoubtedly Spokane's most beautiful avenue, flanked on both sides with attractive buildings."
The Spokane Club, at 1002 W. Riverside, this summer sold the next-door Civic Building to the Empire Health Foundation for $775,000, culminating a two-year effort to find a buyer for the 82-year-old, 20,000-square-foot structure.
Then, about two months ago, a family investor group headed by Spokane businessman Greg Newell bought for $1.1 million the 108-year-old, 110,000-square-foot Masonic Center, which had been for sale since October 2012.
Both purchase prices seem a fraction of what one might have expected those buildings to sell for, even in the still-sluggish nonresidential real estate market here, given their historical significance and their prestigious location near Spokane's business epicenter. What's important, though, is that the buildings have new owners who have encouraging plans for them.
As outlined in an update elsewhere in this issue, the Empire Health Foundation is substantially remodeling the Civic Building, with the expectation of moving into it next summer, and plans to rename it the Philanthropy Center.
In a use that seems well-suited for that space, it plans to occupy about a third of the space in the four-story structure and to lease about a third of it to other nonprofits and health care organizations, reserving the remaining third for meeting rooms for training and conferences.
Founded five years ago when nonprofit hospital operator Empire Health Services sold its assets to for-profit Community Health Systems Inc., the big hospital operator based in Franklin, Tenn., the foundation appears to have a bright future.
It expects to receive later this month a big $40 million infusion into its endowment from Spokane-based Providence Health Care, and says it expects to triple next year the amount of money it invests here in health care initiatives.
Meanwhile, Newell says he plans to update the interior of the neoclassical white-stone Masonic Center, most noted for the 18 massive columns that grace its 222-foot curved facade, and to market it as an event, dining, and entertainment venue.
It has supported such activities during its history, but a new owner with a fresh vision and capital to invest might be able to restore some allure and prominence to one of the city's largest, oldest, and most centrally located gathering places. Newell also has said he hopes to recruit some restaurateurs to open cafes in the building.
Renovations at the two properties hopefully will help ensure the vitality of that promenade-like area of downtown for years to come.