Here at Inlander HQ, we have a bookshelf filled with all our past issues. So as the STA Plaza has landed back in the news, I started flipping through. And there it was, Feb. 1, 1995, under a familiar byline. "The Plaza," I wrote all those years ago, "has left so many angry business owners, public officials and private citizens in its wake, it's unlikely that the STA's public image will ever be able to fully recover..."
Here we are, a couple of decades later, and the STA's public image remains a problem. Bitter memories are part of the reason business interests have asked for a delay in finalizing the STA's plans to pour another $5 million into the Plaza.
Back in '95, it was, as one county commissioner put it, a "comedy of errors." The STA overpaid for the land before they even had a plan. Their first idea, a 20-story office tower, was killed by a lawsuit. They had a hard time finding firms to build the Plaza, creating millions in cost overruns. Alternative ideas were ignored, and critical public officials said they were booted off the STA Board. Years later, Don Barbieri's run for Congress was quashed by ads pinning the Plaza on him.
So the Plaza probably was an expensive mistake, but as transit centers go, it's beautiful. Still, Spokane hasn't ever gotten over how the whole thing was shoved down our throats. But it's time to move on.
The issue of loitering and bad apples is not entirely an STA problem; it's an all-of-Spokane problem. With a more coordinated approach, lots of progress has been made in the past year, with more queued up to start taking effect soon. And while it's not as robust as it should be, the retail along Riverside and Post is healthier than it's been in years. This is an urban growing pain — other successful cities grapple with the same issues, and we can, too.
Moving the Plaza is a nonstarter. Adjusting the plans should focus on security for sure, but also on how to add more users — the Central City Line would be great. I'm not seeing $5 million in needs at the Plaza, but I know there's a study backing it all up, and I do like their idea for a coffee shop facing out on the corner of Riverside and Wall. I would like to see even more accommodations for bike commuters.
The STA Board's recent decision to pause their plans was exactly the right one. In 1995, the STA simply would not listen. The 2014 STA not only can boast of moving people quite efficiently, but it's also capable of stopping to take the time to hear from all of us. ♦