Ideas being considered to update Riverfront Park's Pavilion include creating a design that opens to Spokane River views and adding a translucent cover that's lit up like a lantern, a city Parks & Recreation master plan analysis says.
As a main goal, the report lists the need to create Pavilion space that serves as a central gathering place and to provide flexible amphitheater space for Hoopfest, Bloomsday, concerts, and other public events.
"We're really looking at the Pavilion and the central portions of the park," says Juliet Sinisterra, the park's master plan project manager. "What's really developed as a focus is how to draw people to the central park area and this amazing river, making the sight line clear and widening the path."
Along with those ideas, proposals include creating new attractions that appeal to many ages and improving pedestrian access and parking as well as lighting.
One proposal also calls for a possible observation tower at the top of the nearby Clock Tower.
Currently, the ice palace's roof structureadded in the 1980sobscures views of the river, the analysis says, and the layout of facilities under what was the original Pavilion cover during Expo '74 doesn't encourage public circulation toward the river.
"In essence, the Pavilion turns its back on the river it should be celebrating," the report says.
A 20-member Riverfront Park advisory panel began work this spring to develop details for the park's future uses and estimates of related costs by early next year. The panel was formed after the Spokane Park Board approved a first phase of a Riverfront Park master plan a year ago that outlined general concepts.
The Park Board wants to have a detailed master plan and costs completed by early next year. It also plans to present a bond measure to voters by November 2014 that would pay for improvements to the 100-acre park, and public input on its master plan is being sought this year.
On June 20, the panel received a master plan analysis with some pros and cons of ideas, as well as attendance and revenue numbers for some attractions.
Since 2010, seasonal attractions, which include ice skating, the IMAX theater, and children's amusement rides, have shown losses in revenue and attendance, the report says. While the Pavilion shell remains a community icon, facilities underneath have become dilapidated and are difficult to repurpose, while vast building spaces are used minimally, it says.
Originally the U.S. Federal Pavilion for Expo '74, the Pavilion was built to remain as a gift to Spokane. After Expo, city leaders decided to remove an amphitheater that had been located there and replace it with a petting zoo, amusement rides, an ice rink, and a 90-minute theatrical exhibit on the history of Spokane.
In 1978, the giant IMAX theater that originally was within the Pavilion moved to its own building adjacent to it. By the mid-1980s, only amusement rides, an arcade room, and ice rink remained under the Pavilion, though the city added miniature golf later in the 1980s.
Sinisterra says the current Pavilion footprint, which encompasses "everything under the tent," covers about 130,000 square feet of space that includes the ice palace, some space to the west, and what's called the East Pavilion that once held the Spokane Story history exhibit. That East Pavilion space is about 95 percent vacant and used minimally for storage and for the restoration of carrousel horses that are fixtures on the park's Looff Carrousel, she says.
The master plan process also is working to determine possible future uses for the IMAX, she adds.
The IMAX theater, which would require a number of upgrades, drew 36,500 visitors in 2012, down from nearly 46,000 in 2010. It had a $342,000 loss last year, compared with a $307,000 loss in 2010. Its attendance peaked in 2005, with 106,000 visitors.
Sinisterra says the next advisory committee meeting, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. July 18 on the fifth floor of Spokane City Hall, is expected to include a more detailed discussion on the IMAX's future, with some members thinking the giant-screen theater has outlived its purpose.
"Others would love to see it repurposed and potentially rebranded as a National Geographic theater," she says.
The Park Board decided last year to close the IMAX theater for six months a year during fall and winter months, with movies to run from spring through Labor Day.
Meanwhile, the 1977-built ice palace also is in need of many repairs and upgrades. Attendance at the skating rink has fallen to 41,100 last year, from 44,500 in 2011 and 48,000 in 2010, The ice palace operated in the red last year, suffering a $41,300 loss, compared with net income of $51,400 two years ago, the report says.
A current drawback includes the ice rink's location in the center of the pavilion that's difficult to access and to see from the downtown core, the report says.
A list of potential ideas for the ice rink include relocating it to an end of the park with greater visibility, creating a smaller rink catering to recreation skating only, and upgrading facilities to include better machinery storage, a skate changing area, and concessions.
The report gives some examples of other cities with ice rink attractions, including one in Boston that converts to a reflecting pool in the spring and fall.
That rink is managed by a skating club in partnership with the Boston Parks Department.
Riverfront Park's amusement rides also have declining revenues that included a loss of $158,000 in 2012, compared with a nearly $34,000 loss in 2011 and a $42,800 loss in 2010.
Ideas to upgrade the amusement-ride feature include working with an outside operator to lease space on Parks & Recreation property along the north bank, which is north of Spokane River and the park, to run upgraded attractions. That area also might focus on one high-profile ride, similar to the newly opened Seattle Great Wheel, the report says.
One challenge for such a change would involve finding a private operator to run it, it says.
Additionally, Sinisterra says the planning process to date has identified a definite need for a new building structure to hold the Looff Carrousel, either at its present location or at a new one. The roof needs repair and the attraction needs more space, she says.
"The carrousel building is undersized; it's not climate controlled, and for the carrousel horses, the wood degrades at a much faster pace," she says. "We have a preservationist who works on them, but having a climate-controlled environment would help protect them in the long run."
The June analysis didn't include a breakdown of revenue data and ideas for the carrousel, because Sinisterra says the recent reports focused on central park and Pavilion features. The advisory board will receive similar data on the carrousel and gondola rides in an upcoming once-a-month meeting.
Sinisterra is working as a temporary, 18-month Parks & Recreation project employee for the Riverfront Park master plan process, she says. The advisory panel, which began meeting formally in April, is reviewing master plan proposals and existing park features to fine-tune master plan detailed proposals and costs, says Randy Cameron, Park Board president.
As part of that, the panel also will review what future park elements can be sustaining, including attractions that draw revenue or at least break even as a park feature, Cameron says.
"The advisory committee has been working on identifying not only the upgrades to the current Riverfront Park, but also what might be new attractions, new amenities for the next 40 years," he says.
Ideas also include options for better lighting and more security, he adds. "We hear that a lot; people feel uncomfortable at night because of a number of areas that have a lack of lighting and because of the terrain; there are a lot of hills and subtle terrain that create a lot of dark pockets."
He says by late this year or early next year, the advisory panel will present details to the Park Board with costs estimates, and the accepted proposals will be provided in support of a bond measure.
"As the advisory committee comes together and defines what the reimagined, redesigned Riverfront Park can be, we will go out and do a series of community question-and-answer sessions, and have input from the different neighborhoods,"Cameron says.
For the Riverfront Park master plan, general ideas in the first phase vision included creating a more defined north-south pedestrian corridor and a "river walk" system throughout the park. Other concepts involved Centennial Trail connections, such as to the Kendall Yards development, an expanded central courtyard for events, and a north park entrance.
As one new feature added recently, the newly constructed Fountain Cafe opened near the Rotary Fountain on the south side of the park to house concessions and restrooms.
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