Spokane Journal of Business

High-rise rumors escalate

Rookery block once again draws notice

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Rumors are swirling in downtown Spokane about a possible building projectperhaps a high-rise office tower or a parking garageon the block where the Rookery Building and several smaller structures now stand.

The rumors, which are circulating among businesses on that block, concern the same property where developers proposed a 17-story, combination transit center and office tower 10 years ago.

My understanding is that some of the buildings on this block are coming down, says Micky Forsyth, general manager of the St. Vinnies Closet thrift store in the ground floor of the Rookery Building, at the southeast corner of Riverside Avenue and Howard Street. Forsyth says she has heard that either a high-rise office building or a parking structure will be built there. Due to the rumors and to an increase that it faced in its rent, St. Vincent de Paul plans to close the thrift store this month.

Several other retailers also have heard that buzz, but they say a wave of similar gossip circulates every few years.

This time, however, It seems like its more imminent, says Sandi Britz, owner of Britz Beads & Gifts, at 506 W. Sprague.

The block in question is immediately east of the 20-story Seafirst Financial Center, which is at 601 W. Riverside, and is bordered by Riverside on the north, Howard on the west, Sprague Avenue on the south, and Stevens Street on the east.

K. Wendell Reugh, of Spokane, owns the Rookery Building and most of the rest of that block except for the six-story Fernwell Building, at 505 W. Riverside, and a small structure that houses Gabbys Irish Home & Grill, at 514 W. Sprague. Reughs office referred questions about any redevelopment plans to Kiemle & Hagood Co., the leasing agency for the Rookery Building.

Craig Soehren, a senior property manager and leasing agent for Kiemle & Hagood, says, There are no plans at this date to tear down anything or build a tower. The owner is looking at what hes going to do with the property, but there is nothing definitive.

Soehren says Reugh doesnt believe the property, which accommodates a mix of retail and Class C office space, is being put to its best possible use and is exploring other options for it. He says Kiemle & Hagood, in cooperation with Reugh, reviews other potential uses for the land once every two or three years.

The rumors may have started because Kiemle & Hagood is discouraging long-term leases on the property, Soehren says.

Michael Moon Bear, who owns MoonShadow, an ethnic music and specialty shop at the southwest corner of the block, says speculation about the future of the block has been circulating since he opened his store in 1994. He says a demolition clause in tenants leases, which states that the owner can give occupants three months notice to move out if he decides to tear down the buildings, keeps the subject at the forefront of some business owners minds.

Britz says talk of demolition has arisen a couple of times since she established her shop three years ago.

This time, there seem to be more concrete things going on, she says.

For example, a team of asbestos inspectors visited her building and others on the block last month, Britz says. She believes that possible looming demolition plans may have prompted the inspection.

Speculation about a possible new office tower resurfaced recently in connection with a downtown plan that calls for an aggressive addition of office space during the next 20 years. The plan, which a California-based consultant prepared for the city of Spokane and Downtown Spokane Partnership, anticipates an average of 86,000 square feet of office space will be added downtown each year for the next 20 years.

A search for space by Spokanes largest law firm, Paine, Hamblen, Coffin, Brooke & Miller LLP, also is fanning the rumor flames. Following a recent merger with Chase, Hayes & Kalamon PS and an announcement of plans for its further growth, the firm reportedly is looking for 40,000 square feet of Class A office space now and will need an additional 20,000 square feet in the future.

A dearth of premium office space has existed here for at least two years, industry experts say.

Potential development of the Rookery Building block last made news 10 years ago when Kiemle & Hagood proposed construction of the Riverside Centre, which was to be a 17-story office building with a transit center for the Spokane Transit Authority at its base.

After that project fell through, Kiemle & Hagood Chief Executive Officer Jerry Hagood said the group of investors backing Riverside Centre still planned to build its 17-story tower in the future, and that it likely would go up within 10 years.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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