Many of the Spokane taxpayers who voted to approve a $64.3 million facelift for the cherished, but aging Riverfront Park no doubt expected to see work occurring there by now, 19 months after they commendably supported the big project.
After all, how difficult could it be? It’s not like developing a high-rise building or a multi-structure office park, right? This involves little more than turning some dirt, updating some landscaping across the park’s nearly 100 acres, and sprinkling in some new, hopefully alluring visitor attractions and amenities, right?
Well, that’s the simplified view.
It turns out that the scope and complexity of the project—requiring an updating of decades-old infrastructure—were far greater that the city could have imagined.
Board President Chris Wright and department Director Leroy Eadie readily admitted as much in a jointly authored column in The Spokesman-Review last month. They said their early desire to hit the ground running was met with “the cold, hard reality that we first needed to assemble a lot more resources to get this project done right and on budget.”
Eadie also acknowledged some early missteps, and that they delayed the project a number of months, during a recent meeting with members of the Journal editorial board. Those missteps triggered complaints from frustrated design firms and others in the construction industry that the project design process was being bungled, as the Journal reported.
That was then; this is now.
The project, thankfully, is about to get under way, as was signaled with a joyous construction kickoff celebration held in the park last Friday. A contractor is to be selected shortly for replacement of the centrally located Howard Street Bridge that spans the Spokane River channel north of the Rotary fountain, and it will be exciting to watch the rest of the transformation as it unfolds, piece by piece.
Subsequent key projects, as many readers know, will include construction of a unique new recreational ice rink ribbon and upgrades to the Skyride facility. Large projects also will include construction of a new building to house the heavily visited Looff Carrousel and a new $23 million centerpiece U.S. Pavilion event center, with related upgrades.
Project planners still have to show that they can complete the crucial park rejuvenation effort within budget and close to the previously estimated construction timetable, with improvements expected to be largely completed by the end of 2019.
That will be challenging. Eadie told the Journal that partly because of the need to replace old infrastructure of various types and to improve bridges that provide access to the park, various departments and agencies will need to coordinate efforts.
We’re hopeful that the project will proceed smoothly. Riverfront Park remains downtown Spokane’s precious jewel, and restoring its luster in a thoughtful, well-organized, and visitor-focused fashion is crucial to the health of the city’s core.
Let the facelift begin.
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