On a recent Thursday morning, dripping flower-laden baskets brightened the new location of Revival Lighting LLC, at 14 W. Main. A half-block to the west, two bicyclists sipped drinks in front of the Rocket Bakerys 5-year-old east downtown caf, while, around the corner, an enormous crane swooped above an office building thats under construction.
Such varied scenes of business activity were rare just five years ago in that formerly declining area of downtown. Although the east end isnt exactly bustling with activity yet, its days as a hangout for the down and out are fading fast, business owners and developers there claim. Business is expected to pick up even more once a few major projects theresome of them well under way, others only in the planning stagesare completed.
Debbie Roffler, who owns Main St. Antiques and the building that houses it at 7 W. Main, says that when she first opened her business across the street five and a half years ago, Everyone thought I was crazy. Customers were afraid to stop. Now, people could spend a couple of hours in this area, having lunch, getting a coffee.
The projects that could soon boost business further in the east end include:
Havermale Park, a $13 million office, residential, and retail center that Spokane businessman Rob Brewster Jr. plans to develop. The project will involve renovation of seven buildings, providing an impressive 130 living units downtown, on the eastern portion of a city block bordered by Riverside Avenue, Browne Street, Sprague Avenue, and Bernard Street. Work is expected to start soon, and Brewster says Havermale Park will be ready for occupancy in two years.
The 41 W. Riverside building, a five-story office building being developed at that address by Mick McDowell. AmericanWest Banks downtown office will be a major tenant in that $5 million building, which is to be completed in early November.
The Spokane Convention Center expansion, a project that voters here passed last year and the Spokane Public Facilities District will develop. The $77 million, 150,000-square-foot expansion is expected to break ground by the end of this year, although a site for the project hasnt been chosen yet. Michael Edwards, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, says that erecting the expansion on the south side of Spokane Falls Boulevard, which is one of the districts options, would be more beneficial to businesses than building it east of the DoubleTree Hotel, which is the other proposed site. Edwards supports the former option because he asserts that would make the project more downtown-centered, while the latter site would give it a more river-centered feeling.
The University District, the promotion of which is supported by the city of Spokane, higher-education institutions here, the East Spokane Business Association, and other groups. The project would include guiding development in the area, bounded by Interstate 90 on the south, Sharp Avenue on the north, Division Street on the west, and Hamilton Street on the east, as a retail, restaurant, commercial, and residential area that would serve students at Gonzaga University and the schools in the Riverpoint Higher Education Park.
The American Legion Building, a 60,000-square-foot, six-story building that Spokane developer Steve Schmautz and his wife, Tresa, are renovating into restaurant, retail, and office space at 108 N. Washington. That project is costing them about $5 million and is expected to be ready for occupancy by early October, although they havent signed any tenants yet, Steve Schmautz says.
Adding to that activity are the relatively recent openings of several small businesses in east downtown, especially on Main where Revival Lighting; Main St. Antiques; Namaska, a book, music, and yoga-supply store; FSG Yoga Studio; Hatties Attic, a second-hand clothing store; The Main Touch, a massage clinic; and Global Folk Art, a nonprofit art store, have enlivened the neighborhood. Nearby, Zo, a vintage furnishings, home-dcor, and garden shop opened earlier this month at 221 N. Division, and Mountain Goat Outfitters, an outdoor-recreation supply store, moved to 12 W. Sprague from the Spokane County Courthouse area in May.
Lon McRae, who with Carol Dell, owns Mountain Goat Outfitters, says the stores sales have grown by some 30 percent since the business moved to the northwest corner of Sprague and Division, and its customer count has soared by 50 percent.
Any person who lives in Spokane finds themselves on Division Street at least once a week, McRae says. A lot of people are coming in and checking us out for the first time.
Signs of life
The Havermale Park projects projected $13 million cost is almost half as much as the total amount that developers spent in Spokane on private historic-preservation projects last year, and encompasses upgrades of 84,000 square feet of existing space and construction of more than 100,000 square feet of new space.
The thing about Havermale is that its so big, its going to create the need for stuff, Edwards says. Its not five or 10 apartments; its 130 apartments.
Brewster says he chose the east end of downtown for his project over other parts of the citys core because of its relative proximity to Gonzaga University and because of the potential impact of the 41 W. Riverside project, which sits across the street from the Havermale Park site.
Those are signs of life, he says, adding that McDowell is building a brand new building from scratch. It shows real commitment to that area of downtown.
At about 56,000 square feet, McDowells building also is large in size. He estimates that about 150 people will work in the building, and those people will need places to eat lunch, take coffee breaks, and do other business.
Talk of revitalizing east downtownan underutilized area compared with the rest of downtownhas been brewing for at least 25 years, dating back to when Larry Brown opened the Onion restaurant at 302 W. Riverside, McDowell says.
We thought that would do the trick, he says. With that much open space, there should be something done there. Apparently, now it may come to fruition.
To the west, the Davenport Arts District, the Riverside Avenue Historic District, River Park Square, and other parts of the citys core have garnered far more attention in recent years as focal points of commerce, civic activity, and urban-residential development.
Some business owners say the east end, with its numerous surface parking lots and vacant or near-vacant buildings, has been sort of an ugly stepsister. For years, services for the downtrodden were housed there, which deterred people from slowing down, let alone stopping to shop, in the area, say some business owners.
McDowell argues that as the east end continues to improve, from an area frequented by the homeless to one occupied by working people residing in apartments, lofts, and condos, it will grow into a healthier place.
When you go to Seattle, dont you go to Pike Street Market? You do, even though it still has the winos (urinating) on the benches, he says. But there are still more normal folks than weirdos. If we make that transition from downtown being 2,000 poor folks to being 5,000 residents, then well have a multi-faceted vibrant downtown.
Edwards says busy Browne and Division streets sever the eastern-most portion of the area.
Browne and Division (streets) are urban edges, and for a long time pedestrians didnt want to be there, he says.
Peoples perceptions of downtowns boundaries are changing, though, and more people are being drawn to the unique shops and servicesfrom a folk-art gallery to a yoga studioto do business on the outskirts of downtowns east end, Edwards says.
Whats really exciting is that its very organic, Edwards says. Its the cool little stuff that makes downtown neat. Theres no big plan in place.
Roffler, of Main St. Antiques, calls the east end a funkier, more relaxed alternative to other parts of downtown. She demonstrated her faith in the area this spring, when she bought the building at 7 W. Main and moved her business there from a space she had leased for five years across the street. Likewise, Revival Lightings owners bought the building Roffler vacated and moved there from that businesss former location just around the corner on Division Street.
Theres just something about this neighborhood that I love, Roffler says.
What more does east downtown need to revitalize fully?
Roffler suggests a medium-sized grocery store, similar to Huckleberrys Fresh Market. Janine Vaughn, who owns Revival Lighting with three others, wants more restaurants.
Gavin Swenson, who owns Red Lion BBQ & Pub, at 126 N. Division, says hed like the northbound traffic on Division Street to be slowed down. Swenson says his bar fills up at 5 p.m. with an after-work crowd, and he anticipates even more such business once Havermale Park and the 41 W. Riverside building are completed. Being located on the east side of busy Division Street, though, on the opposite side from the downtown core, deters people from patronizing his restaurant, he says.
When they plant some trees, and do some landscapinglike Pioneer Square has in Seattlethats when it will really be revitalized here, Swenson says.
Edwards has additional thoughts on resuscitating downtowns east end.
We need more downtown commercial functions east of Division, and we need to encourage the schools to put some of their programming into the downtown core so you get people walking back and forth between businesses and classes, further enhancing the flow of people and commerce, he says.
Its residential projects, though, such as Brewsters Havermale Park, that finally will bring life to the area, McDowell asserts.
As soon as we make that transition to a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week residential community, then the transition will be complete, he says. That will provide energy to the businesses, and offices, and commercial, and retail spaces down there.
As Brewster points out, theres certainly room for growth and development.
Its a larger land mass (than other parts of downtown), so the infill could be substantial, he says. There could be more larger projects developed there, kind of like what were seeing with the AmericanWest building. A lot of buildings have been torn down in the district, so it leaves room for development and new construction.
Because of east downtowns access to Interstate 90, the Spokane River, and the Centennial Trail, Brewster says he would consider a second project there in the future.
Once it fills with tenants and residents, I think it will be a destination for people, he says.
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