Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Downtown Spokane faces critical juncture, deserves focus


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A confluence of events places Spokane’s downtown at a critical juncture, and it’s time for elected officials and business leaders to come together, regardless of political affiliations, and solve the problems that plague the core.

The private and public sectors have invested hundreds of millions of dollars—by conservative estimates—during the past 20-plus years to make downtown an attractive destination for businesses, residents, and visitors alike. All of that work is being undermined now by crime, drug use, and people setting up camp on the streets. Now, there’s anecdotal evidence that some businesspeople might be having second thoughts about investing in and around the core. We hope that’s not the case.

The city must find a way to address the lack of shelter space, a task that has eluded the government for what’s going on years now. Only then can sit-and-lie ordinances be enforced—or even be discussed as an alternative to addressing what appears to be a growing segment of our population living on the streets.

As importantly, reducing property crime must become a greater priority. As the Journal reported recently, commercial burglary reports increased nearly 127% in the downtown precinct since 2015, while the level of such burglaries remained flat citywide during the same period. Some property owners suggest the numbers would be even higher, but some businesses don’t report such crimes because they know nothing will be done. Something is wrong and must change, if that’s the case.

The City Council bears the brunt of the criticism for many of the issues facing downtown, and much of that criticism is justified. But we have in Nadine Woodward a mayor who ran a successful campaign on promises of addressing homelessness and cleaning up downtown. We’re into the third year of her term, and the problems have worsened during her tenure. The pandemic certainly has been a factor in those worsening conditions, but that excuse has a shelf life that expires soon, if it hasn’t already.

We say this acknowledging that it’s a series of difficult issues that are hardly unique to Spokane. The solutions aren’t simple, but we must make better progress.

For the business community’s part, we’d ask for a return of workers to downtown where possible. We’ve used this space in the past to implore businesses that haven’t done so already to bring remote workers back to the core. We continue to believe a professional presence downtown activates and strengthens it, though we call for it knowing such decisions are more nuanced now, as employers weigh the space needs and employees’ desires.

Make no mistake. Downtown remains a tremendous asset to the Spokane community as a whole. But as travel increases and people return to the core, it’s important to address the issues that detract from our unique urban experience.

On a recent weekend, Spokane hosted the PNW Qualifier volleyball tournament and NCAA women’s basketball games. People from throughout the West and from other parts of the U.S. traveled to Spokane, packed hotel rooms, and flooded restaurants. What did they tell the folks back home about Spokane upon their return?

In the not-so-distant past, we would have been confident of a positive experience. Today, we aren’t so sure. We can come together to make sure downtown remains a desirable destination for all.

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