Spokane Journal of Business

Commentary

06/22/2017

The Journal’s View:

Riverfront Park Project must meet expectations

Voters approved $64.3 million in bonds to renovate Riverfront Park and restore the sparkle to the city’s crown jewel. Since then, however, signs that the city is straying from what voters were told—or what they perceived—have tarnished the complex project.  

The Spokane Parks Board and the city’s parks and recreation department need to deliver on the promises they’ve made to voters and take any necessary steps to restore citizens’ confidence in the project. Failing to do so stands not only to sully the public’s feelings about the project, but also to hurt the city’s credibility the next time it asks voters to pass another bond election. 

Most recently, the Parks Board has discussed—then set aside—whether it will recanvas the U.S. Pavilion, the metal tent-like structure that stands as the most visible reminder of Expo ’74, for which the park was initially improved.

When the park renovation project was first rolled out, proponents introduced gorgeous conceptual drawings of the Pavilion that showed it covered similar to how it had been during Expo and suggested that it could be home to some sort of event hub or multimedia attraction. 

The notion of changing course on that part of the project prompted a public outcry and has stirred lively debate about whether the Pavilion should be covered.

Granted, the Pavilion renderings were conceptual. In essence, however, the pitch to voters showed a Pavilion that, at a minimum, had year-round use and broader interest than the ice skating rink that was situated under the structure for decades. The much-grander hope is that the Pavilion can be a destination that spurs community pride and attracts more visitors. 

Ultimately, we have an opportunity—right now—to create a feature that serves as Spokane’s icon, the structure that immediately comes to mind when people think of the city. 

Regardless of whether the Pavilion is covered or not, the fear is that the project won’t live up to the minimum expectations. 

The Pavilion discussions follow slow starts to projects in the park, concerns about cost overruns, the decision to build an ice-skating path rather than a traditional rink, and confusion about whether rehabilitation of pedestrian bridges was supposed to be covered by the bond money. It all adds up to valid questions about whether the voters are getting what they’ve been promised. 

Spokane Public Schools goes to voters every six years seeking funds to build new schools and to improve existing ones. The district’s approach essentially is, “If we did what we said we would do in the past six years, then trust us to do what we say we’re going to do in the next six years.” It’s a strategy that’s proven successful for the school district—and one neighboring school districts have tried to emulate. 

Our hope is that the Riverfront Park renovation lives up to expectations and proves to be a stronger source of community pride once work is completed. The fear is that the city isn’t delivering on what was promised, and that falling short on that project will have repercussions beyond Riverfront Park.