Spokane Journal of Business

STA tracks real estate activity along transit lines

Developers describe pros, cons planning around public routes

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-Erica Bullock
The massive Magnesium Village apartment complex takes shape on Spokane’s North Side. A Spokane Transit Authority bus line runs along its eastern boundary.

Spokane Transit Authority is tracking real estate activity along its transit routes in Spokane County as a way to help the agency identify and plan for future services in areas of expected growth, says chief planning and development officer at STA, Karl Otterstrom.

STA also tracks development activity to provide network of high-performance transit corridors with all-day service, “that people can make long-term decisions on where they’re going to live, where they’re going to invest, and where they’re going to build,” Otterstrom says.

Many real estate developers find success marketing Spokane-area properties for access and proximity to public transportation; however, others say more investment in permanent transit stops and routes is needed before they commit to developing properties solely based on access to public transit. 

Greenstone Corp. CEO Jim Frank says housing density increases, parking and traffic is reduced, and neighborhoods become more resilient the more transportation options are available.

For other developers, such as Rob Brewster, president of Spokane-based InterUrban Development LLC, relying on the accessibility of transit routes for development opportunities isn’t a viable long-term strategy due to the impermanent nature of bus routes in Spokane County.

“Buses are here today and can easily be gone tomorrow,” Brewster says. “Just change the bus route and you’ll lose the benefit of being next to public transportation, which makes it pretty difficult to justify developing specifically on anything to do with public transportation.”

InterUrban is behind the development of the McKinley School property, at 117 N. Napa, in East Central Spokane.

Brewster says he supports public transportation as it increases access and is beneficial for commercial property owners.

However, he says, if there were permanent public transportation nodes, such as light rail or streetcars, then the company would be more likely to pursue development around public transportation access points.

“Rubber tires are not the same as rails,” says Brewster. 

Executives at the Spokane Transit Authority say the organization’s high-performance corridors, such as the Division Street Bus Rapid Transit project, are routes with all-day service and allow people to make long-term decisions about where to live, invest, and build.

Otterstrom says, “Oftentimes in transit, people talk about the mode: bus rapid transit, or city line, or light rail, or streetcar, and that really is secondary to the performance of the route.”

STA has been investing in six of these corridors to add permanence in terms of shelters and lighting, and speed of service at the following corridors: Sprague Avenue, Monroe-Regal, Cheney, City Line, North Division, and Interstate 90-Spokane Valley, Otterstrom says.

Brian Jennings, deputy director of community development at STA, is working to understand the impact that the recently implemented City Line and the future North Division Bus Rapid Transit lines will have on real estate development, he says.

Long-term plans and an interlocal agreement with the city of Spokane and Spokane County will be released by the end of the year, says Jennings, adding that the information will clarify how routes influence real estate development.

Greenstone is working with STA on future transit access to Mead Works, a 400-acre property located north of the old Kaiser Aluminum Corp. smelter site, in Mead, says Frank.

The planned North Division Bus Rapid Transit line route could be extended north to connect with the Mead Works site, where the closest bus stop is about a mile away on Hawthorne Road, Frank explains.

Another developer, James Gallina, partner at Spokane-based Millennium Northwest LLC, is working on two properties under construction on North Monroe and on North Wall in the Garland District.

Properties are more attractive and valuable the closer they are to transit stops, he says, adding that Millennium considers development opportunities as they arise, particularly on North Division along the planned Bus Rapid Transit line.

“The investment on North Division for bus rapid transit is an investment in infrastructure and not so easily reversed,” he says. “That permanence makes Division a more attractive development target.”

Erica Bullock
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Reporter Erica Bullock has worked at the Journal since 2019 and covers real estate and construction. She is a craft beer enthusiast, who loves to garden and go camping with friends.

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