Spokane Journal of Business

Downtown Spokane Partnership could expand its influence

Organization to look at stretching border, attracting businesses

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-—Staff photo by Linn Parish
Downtown Spokane Partnership Executive Director Mark Richard says the organization plans to be actively involved in the downtown gateway project, among others.

Weeks into his new job as executive director of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, Mark Richard says one of the organization's many goals is to look for ways to strengthen the city's central business district.

The 48-year-old former Spokane County commissioner says that will entail the DSP being involved in efforts that are currently gaining traction in or near the city's core, such as improving city's gateways along the Interstate 90 corridor and developing a new master plan for Riverfront Park.

Other ideas—likely more long term—involve raising the DSP's physical profile downtown and becoming more actively involved in economic development.

"Strategically, we need to think about how aggressive we can be involved in conversations about relocating downtown," he says.

Richard took over the DSP's top post Jan. 7, just days after his second term as county commissioner ended. He announced last April that he wouldn't be running for a third term and says he didn't know at that time that the DSP post might be coming open.

The DSP board fired Richard's predecessor, Mike Tedesco, without cause last fall after he'd served in the position for just under a year.

In his early weeks in the position, Richard says he's meeting with all of the DSP's stakeholders and trying to get a good understanding of their priorities for the organization.

While that's a common refrain for an executive in a new position, it could be a tall task at the DSP. The organization oversees the Business Improvement District, which includes about 850 businesses and 350 property owners in an 80-block area, as well as the neighboring U District. The three components of the organizations have separate boards of directors with a total of 60 members. In addition, the DSP has 73 dues-paying members, which include a diverse range of property owners, professional firms, retailers, and others.

For 2013, the BID has an annual budget of just over $1 million, and the DSP has a $220,000 budget. Together, they employ 22 people.

Marty Dickinson, who headed the DSP for six years before leaving in 2011 to take an executive marketing position with Spokane-based Sterling Financial Corp., says a leader of the organization easily can get pulled in a number of different directions and has to endeavor to stay focused on the mission of creating a clean, safe, and vibrant downtown.

"You could let yourself get derailed every single day, whether that's by a big snowstorm or an unfortunate crime event, or Hoopfest," she says.

Specifically, Dickinson says, the Business Improvement District is at the heart of the organization, and she says it's important to make sure that component of the organization is healthy and well protected.

Speaking of the BID, she says, "It's not sexy and it's not super glamorous, but it's at the center of everything. It's the reason that the DSP is the best public-private partnership in the region."

Dickinson, whose office is just one city block away from the DSP office at 211 N. Wall, adds, "Mark has reached out to many people. He's going to do really well there."

Stanley Schwartz, a principal at the Witherspoon Kelley law firm and chairman of the DSP board, concurs, adding that Richard's "background, experience, and knowledge of Spokane" made him the best candidate for the position.

"The DSP is in good shape, financially as well as administratively," Schwartz says.

Richard says one of the larger efforts the DSP will be involved in concerns improving the gateways to downtown Spokane from Interstate 90.

The city of Spokane, DSP, and others have a $260,000 grant to develop preliminary design standards for improvements to I-90 interchanges between Hamilton Street on the east and Maple Street on the west. Richard says he hopes to "come out of the chute in 2014 with a strategy for investment in those gateways."

He adds, "It's important to the overall energy and experience of downtown."

The southern border of the Business Improvement District currently extends along the east-west railroad viaduct that runs through downtown and doesn't include the swath of city blocks farther south between the viaduct and I-90. Richard says the DSP is starting to explore whether the organization can provide security, cleaning, and other services to that portion of downtown.

Such an effort might involve expanding the Business Improvement District to include those city blocks, Richard says. Short of that, he says, the DSP could contract to provide its services there.

In addition to expansion, the DSP is looking into collaboration with the Spokane Police Department, which is looking to expand its presence in the core. Richard says he's receptive to exploring the idea of having the DSP's security team sharing space with the SPD, though he would want to make sure it was a good fit for both.

On the DSP's northern border is Riverfront Park, and Richard says he foresees the organization taking an active role in the master planning process that's under way for the park. He describes the park as "a critical component of the downtown experience."

For the park's future, he says, "Let's think big. Let's make the next catalytic investment that helps to encourage investment in the downtown area."

In the U District, the DSP is helping to champion the pedestrian bridge project that would extend over the railroad tracks and connect the southern end of the campus to Sprague Avenue. The organization's role, he says, will be to work to secure both public and private funds for the project.

Born in Spokane and raised in the Spokane area, Richard attended Eastern Washington University and earned a bachelor's degree in government.

He worked for 10 years as a real estate agent before becoming the government affairs director that jointly served the Spokane Home Builders Association and the Spokane Association of Realtors. He ran successfully for the Spokane County commissioner seat in 2005.

"As a lifelong resident, I'm a huge fan of downtown," Richard says.

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Deputy Editor Linn Parish has worked for the Journal of Business for a total of 10 years, dating back to 1998. A self-described sports nerd, Linn has worked as a professional writer/editor for nearly 20 years.

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