Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Downtown Spokane needs its professionals to return

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It’s time to get back to business in downtown Spokane.

Employers with a presence in the city’s core should bring back employees as quickly—and as safely—as they can. The presence of a workforce is much needed and will help to cure many of the ails currently experienced downtown.

We say this with eyes wide open and full acknowledgement of the COVID-19 delta variant and the current uptick in coronavirus cases, both in the Spokane area and elsewhere. This pandemic is still in front of us, regardless of how badly we want it in our rearview mirror.

That said, we know much more than we did 16 months ago, when many employers sent their workforces home, requiring them to work remotely in an effort to, as it was called, flatten the curve. In the beginning, you’ll recall, the Centers for Disease Control dismissed the efficacy of masks and called on people to be hypervigilant in cleaning surfaces and washing hands. Later, but before vaccines became available, masks and social distancing became the gold standards for protection against spread of the virus.

Now, we have vaccines for those who are willing to receive them. We know that masks are effective in limiting the spread of the virus. And as individuals, we know better than to power through at work when we’re sick or showing symptoms, staying home instead to keep colleagues safe.

Armed with that knowledge, employers and their employees should be focused on returning to offices.

Many employers—Bank of America and Paine Hamblen law firm, among others—used the pandemic as an opportunity to remodel office space, both to make necessary updates and to reimagine workspaces with social distancing and employee safety in mind. And as those who already are back in the office have learned, minor adjustments to physical spaces can be made to encourage social distancing and other safety measures, as needed.

Upon returning en masse, those downtown workers will add a vibrancy to the city’s core that has been sorely missed. In that void, a homeless population is most of what is seen in the core, leading to the notion that downtown isn’t as safe as it once was. That narrative likely would dissipate somewhat with the return of workers shopping and eating near their offices.

Even with a return of working professionals, the city’s core faces some headwinds. The Class A office space vacancy rate has jumped about 10 percentage points, to about 25%. Many restaurants and bars that have survived thus far have limited hours, some due to labor shortages and others while waiting for a return of normalcy.

All that said, downtown Spokane is still the crown jewel of Eastern Washington, with the Spokane River falls and Riverfront Park as its centerpiece, surrounded by exceptional dining, a variety of entertainment venues, and a small but growing urban living element.

But to return to something resembling its thriving, pre-pandemic energy, it needs the professionals who make a living in the core. And downtown employers have the power to make that happen.

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