Downtown business interests must be laser-focused in their analyses of the proposed Spokane Transit Authority Plaza renovation and must use their influence to ensure development of a safe, vibrant public space in the city’s core from which buses move efficiently.
Many longtime downtown businesspeople feel like STA didn’t get it right when it first developed the Plaza nearly 20 years ago, and there’s merit to those criticisms. The building’s design and a lack of strategic thinking have fostered the uncomfortable atmosphere that exists there today. With a remodel and reconfiguration of space, this is an opportunity to create at least some of what the Plaza potentially could have been all along.
At the request of the Downtown Spokane Partnership and others, the STA board delayed for three months moving forward with a planned, $5.8 million remodel of the Plaza, in order to allow more public input. Two months remain, and conversations are starting in earnest now. The Nov. 15 deadline will be here quickly, so all parties must stay on topic during this period of discovery.
To that end, the DSP, Greater Spokane Incorporated, and others reviewing plans with STA should place on the back burner debates about whether the Plaza is the highest and best use for its current site. A mass-transit hub in the center of such a large concentration of the city’s workforce could be an asset to the business community and the community as a whole. While the Journal will always advocate private investment and development as a priority, public services and common spaces are essential to any healthy downtown. Short of someone stepping up with a market-rate offer to buy the Plaza and identification of a realistic, nearby alternative site, it should stay where it currently is located.
The conversation instead needs to focus on improving the space and filling it with activity. To be successful, the space must be something other than a shell through which those catching a bus pass and those who have nowhere better to go hang out for hours at a time. Public events, desirable retail space, and efficient passenger flow must be major components of this plan. To its credit, STA has incorporated elements into its design intended to accomplish some of these things.
But STA must remain open to additional ideas and do its best to assuage its defensive posture. Some of the organization’s representatives talk about a perception of safety issues as if there isn’t a criminal element attracted to the Plaza—as if it’s a false perception of those who don’t ride the bus. The truth is, STA is operating a public facility around which many pedestrians give a wide berth whenever possible. The STA needs to ask itself why, and to own the challenge of overhauling the Plaza’s atmosphere and image.
This project presents an opportunity for downtown Spokane, an opportunity it was afforded years ago and failed to capitalize upon. There is no “us versus them” in this scenario, and rhetoric on both sides of the debate that fosters such polarization won’t take us forward. There’s just us, and we all need to be involved if the Plaza is going to reach its potential.
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