Downtown Spokane a crucible for housing, transit and business ideas

Sunday, September 24, 2017

(As reported in The Spokesman Review by Kip Hill)

Everything’s waiting for you.

That’s the message of downtown Spokane boosters, or at least their vision of the future. Revitalized historic buildings, like the old Ridpath Hotel, transformed into housing for those working in a vibrant and varied economic core. New options to get around, like a high-speed electric bus and dedicated bike lanes. Green spaces that serve a purpose beyond public gatherings, covering massive tanks designed to prevent sewage from spilling into the Spokane River.

Gage Stromberg, owner of River City Brewing on downtown’s West End, said the city’s center is booming through experimentation.

“I’m a believer in downtowns,” said Stromberg, who operated a pension business out of the Eldridge Building at 1325 W. First Ave. for a decade before opening River City with his brother. “The downtown of a community is what makes it different than any other place to go.”

Outside his businesses’ window on the Carnegie Block – the name an idea of Stromberg’s mother and downtown developer Julie Wells – there’s angled parking, which dates back to at least 1990. Commuters walk into work from nearby Browne’s Addition, stopping for breakfast at mainstay Rocket Bakery then staying after work to taste beer at one of several breweries in the district, including Iron Goat, which opened its new $900,000 tasting room last year. Other options include Orlison and the brewery incubator in the old Luminaria Building on South Madison Street.

“Literally, six breweries in a three-block area,” Stromberg said. “Beer people know that, but I don’t think the average citizen knows that.”

Stromberg said the resurgence on his block is filtering into other parts of downtown, and the design documents, construction equipment and new storefronts bear that out.

The Downtown Spokane Partnership – the neighborhood’s biggest booster at City Hall and elsewhere – reports that $300 million will have been spent on streets and other public facilities in a 7-year period ending in 2020, and an additional 500 downtown rentals are expected to become available this year, with hundreds more planned just in the Ridpath redevelopment scheduled to open in 2019.

The City Council is eying a lift of the building height restrictions next door to Riverfront Park, potentially opening Spokane Falls Boulevard to housing development on street-level parking lots.

A reconfiguration of Main Avenue, in early discussions at City Hall, is also intended to promote housing development on a stretch of road linking downtown with the bustling University District.

Those are all signs city officials, developers and business owners are heading in the right direction to continue interest in the city’s core, Stromberg said.

“To the city’s credit, and the Downtown Spokane Partnership, and the developers who are doing projects, they all recognize there is a benefit with trying things, and looking around to see what’s working in other places and being open to them,” he said.