Spokane Journal of Business

Downtown gateways rise as priority

Worthy is among leaders urging officials to improve points of entry into core

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Enhancing the gateways into Spokanes core has emerged as one of the main concerns community members want the Downtown Spokane Partnership to address in the update to its downtown plan.

The DSP says it plans to make gateway improvements one of its top priorities in the update, which will provide a vision for developing the citys core over the next 10 years. Separately, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner recently assembled a subcommittee of city and community leaders to identify key gateways and create a plan for how to improve them.

Spokane developer Walt Worthy, a longtime advocate of improving the main points of entry into downtown, calls the state of those gateways despicable and says the issue should have been addressed by city leaders and the business community decades ago. Worthy, who says he tried to improve one of those entry points a couple of years ago, is urging leaders to start improving the gateways immediately, and says he would help provide money and manpower to do it.

The city of Spokane is working with the nonprofit DSP to update a downtown plan the city adopted in 1999 as part of its comprehensive plan. The city has hired the DSP to oversee the update, which the DSP hopes to have ready for approval by the City Council late this year.

Marty Dickinson, DSP president, says community members voiced concerns about the downtown gateways when the DSP developed its original plan, but their primary focus was on larger catalytic projects such as River Park Square and the expanded Convention Center.

There were discussions on (the gateways), but it didnt rise to the top of the list, Dickinson says. It was the right strategy to start with the core and get that taken care of, and now were at the next phase of development as an urban city, and its time to address this.

She adds, People look at the core now and say, This is great, but you dont know how great it is because of the perception when you come in. This is more of a point of pride issue for the community.

Through the DSPs discussions with community members and the planning efforts of its employees and city staff, it has identified nine gateways into downtown, with the northbound Division Street exit from Interstate 90 being the main point of entry.

The other gateways include the Maple Street freeway exit; the Lincoln Street exit; the intersection of Division and Sprague Avenue; the Spokane Falls Boulevard bridge; the Post Street bridge; the intersection of Monroe Street and Boone Avenue; the intersection of Boone and Howard Street; and the intersection of Boone and Division.

The subcommittee of city and community leaders, which Verner put together about a month ago, likely will start by improving one gateway so that we can get momentum in a way that once people see it they would be willing to do more, says Dickinson, who sits on the subcommittee. The northbound Division Street freeway exit is the most likely candidate to be upgraded first, since its the most frequently mentioned gateway during the DSPs discussions with community members, she says.

Work on the citys gateways likely would include traffic mitigation, beautification, and design work, Dickinson says. She says an example of the ideal vision for the gateways would be to install a big sign at the Division exit that says Welcome to Spokane and to beautify the island at the base of that exit.

A few blocks north, the railroad viaduct at Division-and-Sprague would be cleaned up and cleared of advertisements and graffiti, she says.

Cleaning and improving railroad viaducts throughout downtown coincides with the gateway issue and will be another top priority in the downtown plan update, she says. One of the big hurdles to reaching that goal will be getting the cooperation of BNSF Railway Co., she says.

Verners subcommittee hasnt established a time yet for when it would hope to start work on the first gateway, Dickinson says.

Both the DSP and the subcommittee are working on a strategy for raising money from the state, city, and businesses to pay for gateway improvements, she says.

Well probably have to get to a place first where we would prioritize as a community the key gateways, Dickinson says. Then wed look at what we can afford to do and where the energy to do it will come from.

Worthy says he assembled a group of people two years ago to donate plants, tools, and other items, as well as their time in installing those plants, to improve the Lincoln Street freeway exit near his Davenport Hotel and Tower. He says he and that group of donors spent between $20,000 and $30,000 to accomplish the task. A short time later, though, the exit fell back into disarray, he says.

I think the gateways into Spokane are something that everybody should be ashamed of, Worthy says. Whoever is in charge of keeping them up should be fired, because theyve let them go to hell in a hand basket.

He adds, Were spending too much money on consultants and planning and not enough on plants and fertilizer and water. The city needs to figure out whos going to be accountable for making sure it looks good.

Worthy says he would support financially efforts to improve the Lincoln exit and if necessary would volunteer to send his hotel staff to help maintain it.

We can keep it looking good, I can guarantee you, he asserts. If some no-goodnik busts a sprinkler head on Monday, Ill put one back in on Tuesday.

Worthy says that in addition to improving the gateways, the city and the business community downtown need to put forth more effort to maintain the trees in the citys core. He says vandals tear out the trees surrounding his hotels nearly every week.

We cant even get street trees downtown because nobody wants to take responsibility for pruning them, Worthy contends. This is about taking pride in your community.

Dickinson says the street tree issue also will be among the downtown plan updates top priorities. Due to problems with the citys irrigation system, DSP staff members water the trees downtown, she says.

The plan would include adding more trees and replacing some with trees that are more appropriate for Spokanes climate. The street trees are the property owners responsibility, so the plan will need to include a strategy for making that shift, she says.

One priority included in the original downtown plan, but that hasnt made any progress, is developing the surface parking lots along Spokane Falls Boulevard, she says. Attempts have been made to develop that part of downtown, but none of them has worked so far, she says.

Well take more runs at it and keep trying, Dickinson says. Its very prime land; we just have to be able to make it work financially, and it hasnt come to fruition over the last 10 years.

  • Emily Proffitt

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