Avista Development Inc., a subsidiary of Avista Corp., is in the early stages of discussing with city officials and downtown businesses possible efforts to improve the aesthetics around Steam Plant Square, which it owns.
Spencer Sowl is Avista Development’s facilities operation and property manager for Steam Plant Square at 159 S. Lincoln. The building sits between Lincoln and Post streets, just south of the railway line that runs on elevated track through the downtown area.
The one-time steam plant—formerly operated by Washington Water Power Co., which is now Avista—celebrated its 100th anniversary in March. Easily identified by its landmark twin stacks, the 80,000-square-foot, mixed-use building includes offices, retail shops, and a brewery.
But Sowl says the tall railway viaduct hinders Steam Plant Square’s exposure to greater downtown pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
“For starters, what we’d like to see happen is for the viaducts at Post and Lincoln to be cleaned. Bright, fresh coats of paint are what those areas need,” Sowl says.
Next, he says he’d like to see more signage downtown to direct pedestrians and motorists to the Steam Plant. Finally, downtown ambassadors patrolling the area could lead to people feeling safer in the area around the building in the evenings.
“As it stands now, the presence of the downtown ambassadors ends at the wall,” Sowl says. “We’ve been talking with the city about possibly expanding their range beyond it.”
Security ambassadors work for the Downtown Spokane Partnership and act as goodwill ambassadors on behalf of the residents and business owners of downtown and the Business Improvement District.
Sowl says Avista Development wants to continue to position Steam Plant Square for success.
The company owns the entire parking lot immediately north of the railroad viaduct, and on Sept. 10, Steam Plant Square will hold a concert there titled “Brews and Blues” to help generate some positive publicity, Sowl says.
More immediately, Sowl says he is searching for a tenant to occupy a vacant, 2,600-square-foot suite on the second floor. Sowl says the space will lease for $2,200 per month and has the ability to house a tenant with up to 15 employees, he says.
The suite became available last month after Dynamic Recruiting LLC opted to leave the location after seven years there.
Sowl says Steam Plant Square has a 92 percent occupancy rate, and businesses there have an average tenure rate between three to five years.
The architectural firm PacifiCad Inc. is the longest tenured occupant, having moved into Steam Plant Square when it opened in 1999.
The most recent tenant to move in is a small, online women’s clothing retailer named The Laundry Room, which also has operations in Fresno, Calif.
For the past three years, co-owners Evan Murray and Jonah Pauline were using local coffee shops as offices to fill online orders, says Murray, a Spokane native. Pauline is from Fresno but moved The Laundry Room’s online operations here in 2006.
“We moved into Steam Plant the weekend of the 100th anniversary in March,” Murray says. “It was great. It felt like a welcoming party for us.”
Pauline says he contacted Sowl about other office locations before Sowl recommended Steam Plant Square.
“Who says no to an open air environment like this?” Pauline says. “There’s not a window open in here, but the air circulates well and it’s never dark,” Pauline says of retail shop’s 500-square-foot space.
Steam Plant Brewing Co. employees Ashleigh Parr and Ray Portello both started working in the brewery last July.
Parr, who minored in history in college, says she’s fascinated working in the building.
Parr says, “You can come in here every day and discover something you’ve never seen before.”
Portello says he’s never had a job working in a setting more “aesthetically appealing” than the Steam Plant.
Steamplant Brewing Co., home décor shop White Lavender, and children’s boutique French Toast are in the process of expanding operations there. Sowl says leasable retail and office spaces at Steam Plant Square range in size from 500 to 2,600 square feet. His office is located in the structure lower level.
Washington Water Power operated the steam plant for 70 years until it was no longer economically feasible to supply steam heat throughout downtown. The plant had the capability of providing heat to 300 buildings downtown. The last boiler there shut down in December 1986.
A decade later, WWP formed Steam Plant Square LLC, which included Wells & Co., the design-build firm headed by Ron Wells that specializes in historic renovations. Substantial portions of the plant were ultimately refurbished and remain in the steam plant. The four massive steam boilers were eventually converted into restaurant seating.
The Steam Plant Square project grew to include two additional structures, the Seehorn and Courtyard buildings. The entire property includes 80,000 square feet of floor space, says Sowl.
In 2001, Steam Plant Square was the first historic building in Spokane to receive the prestigious National Preservation Honor Award.
“It’s been officially nominated to, and is now listed on, the national, Washington and Spokane Registers of Historic Places,” Sowl says.
In addition to retailers and businesses, the building is often booked for special occasions including, graduations, weddings and other events. It’s open to the public and still draws dozens of daily sightseers each week, Sowl says.
The twin smoke stackes stand 225-feet high, have been opened up, and are available for the public to step inside.
“On a clear night you can step into the stacks and have a pretty amazing view of the stars,” Sowl says.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE