Spokane Journal of Business

Commentary

Pavilion improvements usher new era for Spokane

The recent lighting of Riverfront Park’s U.S. Pavilion provides a light-bulb moment for Spokane residents about what the city’s iconic attraction is becoming—and what could follow.

Imagine, for a moment, the next time Spokane hosts a nationally televised event, such as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships or NCAA basketball tournament games. Envision images of a vibrant pavilion in the outtakes as a national television crew transitions to a commercial break. It’s going to happen, and our city is going to look that much more attractive.

As has been well documented, the once-proud – but in recent years, tired and outdated – downtown attraction is receiving new life as part of the $70.7 million renovation of the downtown park. The work on the pavilion, which is expected to be completed next spring, accounts for roughly a third of the entire park-improvement budget, for which voters approved funding in 2014.

We’ve known it was coming for years but being able to see improvements now taking form provides a glimpse at what could be a new chapter for the Spokane
community.

The pavilion is arguably the most iconic reminder of Expo ’74, the World’s Fair that Spokane hosted through an enormous community effort. The Lilac City still holds the distinction of being the smallest to host a World’s Fair, and the successful event became a moment of impact for the community. Many people still reference some events in Spokane history as happening before or after Expo.

But that was 45 years ago. And during the past 20 years, developers, business owners, and civic leaders have breathed new life into downtown Spokane as Riverfront Park aged. It was a graceful aging – the park was always beautiful – but it became clear over time that its attractions needed new life.

Of course, it isn’t just the pavilion. The new Skate Ribbon and SkyRide facility opened in fall of 2017, and after a few early hiccups with ice-making technology, it has become a popular, not to mention photogenic, winter attraction. The next year, the Looff Carrousel received a new home, preserving the hand-carved wooden carrousel figures that recently turned 110 years old.

But with the pavilion improvements taking shape, the community has a body of work in the park that shows the full potential of what Spokane voters are getting for their tax dollars.

Already, some additional development activity has begun to stir around the park. Site work started earlier this year on The Falls, a three-tower, $60 million project that will overlook the park from the north bank of the Spokane River. Design work has started on a $40 million Sportsplex, also on the North Bank. With the lively debates over building-height restrictions along Spokane Falls Boulevard on the south edge of the park in recent years, it’s hard to imagine that land remaining surface parking lots in years to come.

It all points to a new era for downtown Spokane, one that moves ahead from the sentinel Expo event. It’s a healthy and necessary transition for our community.