Tall shoots of wild grass, rising up through rocky soil and scattered chunks of broken concrete, bend lazily under a gentle breeze as sparrows flit around playfully just above the ground and a fat marmot scurries toward its den.
Such is life on the 76-acre Summit site, which stretches more than a mile along the north bank of the Spokane River just west of downtown Spokane. Those sights and sounds could change dramatically, though, if a sweeping, but long-shelved development plan, calling for a dense mix of residential, retail, office, and commercial uses on the former railroad right of way, finally is implemented.
Kevin Daniels thinks the chances of that happening are good.
Im pretty optimistic, says Daniels, a prospective participant in the project. Its just a phenomenal piece of property, and the timing just may be right to begin developing it, he says.
Daniels is a graduate and current regent of Gonzaga University, and president of Nitze-Stagen & Co., a 32-year-old private investment company with offices in Seattle and New York that offers expertise in commercial office, industrial, and retail properties, and in what it calls adaptive reuse.
Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities Co., which owns the Summit property, announced last month that it has entered into a due-diligence period with Nitze-Stagen to possibly co-develop the Summit property.
Were very optimistic about this moving forward, and a great deal of that has to do with the quality of our partner, says Erik Skaggs, Metropolitans vice president of production, market development, and external affairs.
Nitze-Stagen specializes in taking on complex urban projects that had been struggling to get off the ground, and uses its development expertise and investment resources to overcome obstacles.
One of the companys more noteworthy recent projects was the redevelopment of a 2 million-square-foot former Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog distribution center in Seattle into a mixed-use facility called Starbucks Center. The project helped spur economic-revitalization efforts in the SODO District south of downtown Seattle. Starbucks Center now houses numerous tenants, and serves as the corporate headquarters for Starbucks Coffee Co. Nitze-Stagen also was the prime developer on a massive restoration of the historic Union Station terminal building in Seattle.
Decision likely soon
In the due-diligence process that it has entered into with Metropolitan, Nitze-Stagen is gathering and evaluating information on the Summit projects market potential, estimated construction costs, community backing, and other data related to its feasibility. That process officially began April 8 and is scheduled to last 45 days, but could be extended if necessary, Daniels says. He adds, though, that Nitze-Stagen already has been studying the project informally for a couple of months, so the amount of time allotted for the due-diligence process shouldnt be an issue. Based on the research done thus far, Daniels says hes been impressed by the seemingly high degree of support for the project from the community.
Thats not normal from what weve experienced, he says. Thats been a remarkable breath of fresh air.
Once Nitze-Stagen has completed its analysis, it will decide whether to move forward with Metropolitan on the project, and if it does, construction could begin as early as next spring, Daniels says.
He declines to estimate the total cost of the project, but says it would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The desire would be to complete the project over five to 10 years, he says.
Of the nature and extent of Nitze-Stagens potential involvement, Daniels says, Our firm doesnt do development for fee. Were long-term investors. We are prepared to invest capital over a phased period of time to catalyze the project.
Metropolitan accumulated the Summit property over the last 20 years, and disclosed plans in 1990 for a possible large mixed-use development there described as a self-contained urban village. Those plans solidified over the next couple of years to include more than 1,000 residential units of various types, an envisioned 475,000 square feet of office space, 80,000 square feet of commercial space, and a possible 250-room hotel.
The plans called for substantial commercial development between Monroe and Maple streets, including the hotel, a restaurant, retail shops, and offices. More retail and office development, plus neighborhood commercial development and the residential areas, were envisioned west of Maple. Among the possible uses mentioned for the neighborhood commercial areas were convenience and grocery stores, entertainment facilities, cafes, delicatessens, and hair salons.
A master plan, environmental impact statement, and planned-unit development for the site were approved by the city of Spokane in 1994. Metropolitan later struggled, though, to attract a major office or commercial development to kick off the project. Rather than funding any speculative building construction, it put the Summit site on the back burner, redirecting the attentions of its real estate development arm, Summit Property Development Inc., to other properties.
Farthest thing from suburbia
Daniels says development plans for the site may need to be updated to reflect market changes that have occurred over the last decade, but the project still would involveas Metropolitan originally envisioneda dramatic departure from other multiuse projects here.
He describes it as a pedestrian-friendly, traffic-discouraging, neighborhood-focused style called new urbanism, that can be seen in areas such as Portlands revitalized Pearl District or San Diegos Gaslamp Quarter, and that harkens back to mixed-use neighborhoods of the 1950s.
I dont believe Ive seen anything in Spokane thats comparable, he says. It wont be suburbia. It will be the farthest thing from suburbia you can imagine, a place where I would want to live.
It would be consistent, though, he notes, with the city of Spokanes new comprehensive land-use plan, adopted in late 2001. That plan seeks to encourage higher mixed-use density in or along 21 designated centers and corridors. One of those centers, encompassing the West Broadway area west of the Spokane County Courthouse, includes part of the Summit site and is one of four neighborhoods in which pilot revitalization-planning efforts currently are under way.
He also points out that plans tentatively call for the Centennial Trail to extend along the riverbank that borders the Metropolitan property, and says the proposed Great Gorge Park would be an added draw.
Daniels says his optimism about the project is tempered by lingering questions about whether the Spokane market can absorb and embrace a mixed-used project of this scope and style.
Originally from Nampa, Idaho, near Boise, Daniels attended Gonzaga University here during the late 1970s, obtaining a bachelors degree in business with a specialty in accounting. He was a certified public accountant for seven years, working at a Seattle firm, and says Nitze-Stagen was one of his clients.
I reached a point in my career when I wanted to be more entrepreneurial, and just worked out a deal with them to join the company, he says. He initially served as a vice president and chief financial officer for Nitze-Stagen, and became president about six years ago. He has been on the GU board of regents for a couple of years, which he says has caused him to spend more time in Spokane.
I was familiar with the (Summit) property, but not from a development standpoint, until a couple of people with more knowledge about it mentioned it to him as being worth a look, Daniels says. He says he contacted Metropolitan about it, and discussions began last fall.
We approached them to purchase the property. It has changed to more of a joint venture where well be more of the lead, and well both invest equally as the project moves forward, he says.
Unlike with Metropolitans earlier strategy to start with commercial projects at Summit, Daniels expects initial development activity at the site would involve the residential aspects west of Maple, possibly with some commercial space.
Metropolitans Skaggs says, Our vision is a national showcase that could help bring out the merits of the citys comprehensive plan and help Spokane better position itself in the national marketplace. Metropolitan believes the amount of housing created by the project could have a very positive impact on the downtown retail and revitalization efforts, he says.
With the rehabilitation of the Monroe Street Bridge under way, Metropolitan has been working with the city on a plan to bring a new fiber-optic conduit across the river to the Summit site and North Side from the downtown area, he says.
Skaggs adds that its too early, though, to provide details on how the overall envisioned mix of uses in the Summit project might change. Our expectation is probably this fall well begin to develop those concepts out further and have broader discussions with the community, he says.
He cautions that it could be 12 to 18 months before construction activity begins at the site, even if Nitze-Stagen agrees to co-develop it. Still, he says, The opportunity to work with a national partner and the increasing demand that we see for downtown housing makes this a very timely project. Certainly its good time to catch the upswing in the market that we think is coming.
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