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Shoehorned Ship 

by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & espite the fact that the majority of downtown's business and civic leaders opposed putting the new convention center at Division Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard, now that construction has been completed, we will all be expected to put on our booster hats and pull together. I can't bring myself to do it. Sorry, but the building is just too awful.


The views from the inside looking out on the Spokane River, I'm sure we'll be told, are the high-water mark (no pun intended) of aesthetic enjoyment. And perhaps with their boat-shaped building, the architects may even have pulled off a Herculean feat, considering the odd space they were given to work with. Who knows? Frankly, I don't care.


I can't even consider the inside of the building because I'm forced to consider the outside. And from the outside looking in, our convention center fails. The building faces away from the street, meaning you and I don't matter a whit. The building is all about the convention-goer who comes for a few days and drops some bucks. But those of us who live in Spokane? We're an afterthought. It's kind of an "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" situation. I can't get beyond this insult.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & here are other issues, too: Should public dollars be spent on buildings on the river's edge, blocking views for the citizens? And what about access? Getting to this new destination via one confusing, poorly located entrance will be tricky -- as will parking during popular events. But for now, let's just consider the building itself: Viewed from the south looking north at Division, we are offered a view of ... exhaust piping? Are they kidding? I believe this is what architects often refer to as an "unresolved problem." No kidding.


When viewed from the east looking west on Spokane Falls -- in addition to that outdoor piping -- I see only what appears to be the prow of a runaway ferry boat. All the glossy photographs in the world won't change the fact that the view they'll present of that pointy "prow" isn't a view that we will see much -- maybe from two blocks away, while crossing the street.


Even then there isn't much to see, because what we have here is a building that, to use the words of the project manager, has been "shoehorned" in. And the result? Rent a room on the south side of the DoubleTree, say three or four stories up, and you'll see every design detail. It's the only way.


It's even worse from the north looking south, as you cross the Guess Bridge. There's a long row of loading bays, then a wall of windowless, solid color that begins to the northeast and wraps its way around the building to the southwest. The existing Convention Center a block to the west is bad enough: An entire block of windowless concrete. Now, from Division down all the way to the west in front of the Opera House, we see nothing but walls.


Did the architects really think they could right all this mess with a fence to be adorned by fence art, or, if you will, "public art?" I get it: a building shaped like a boat surrounded by fish. Cute. The Mona Lisa could go up on that fence, and we would still be looking at what will serve primarily as camouflage. After spending $89 million, the first thing we do is disguise our new building?





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & o why didn't the architects ask the obvious questions: What will the public see? What will be the overall effect of adding a windowless facade to a three-city-block area that already was deadened by oversized concrete buildings? Yes, the architects had a tough spot to work with (made even tougher by the inexplicable reluctance to evict Shenanigan's, as they did with Azteca). But might it not be the case that the very need to "shoehorn" a building into a site reveals a fatal flaw?


Siting, scale, materials, facade, connection with the street -- I think that all these critical factors are so very important, yet they were ignored. But the early renderings of the convention center, sited where it should have been -- that is to the south of the Spokane Opera House -- were quite encouraging. The building was to have been transparent, welcoming, in good scale, with an interesting facade, at least toward the boulevard. So situated, it would have been nicely integrated with the downtown -- and eliminated one of our worst street-level parking lots. But, no, the Public Facilities District and the City Council just had to get the better land deal.


They also focused on those bays for trucks to unload in -- apparently a major factor in choosing the site near the DoubleTree. Can't have the trucks unloading out in the street, so they said. Rob Higgins, a former Spokane City Council President and opponent of the DoubleTree site, points out that New York City has been unloading trucks on the streets for a century. New Yorkers, he says, regard the off-loading scene as a plus. It's just another form of street theater in an active, exciting urban setting -- something we appear to be avoiding at any cost.
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