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The Big Ideas 

Thinking outside the box for the Spokane region.

City budgets aren’t the only bankrupt accounts in the Inland Empire these days. Anyone who’s attended one of those innumerable economic pow-wows going on lately knows that area leaders and talking heads have emptied their piggy banks of almost all the bright ideas they have for the region. While the whole of the country fights for footing on shifting economic sands, the city of Spokane is mired in an identity crisis, and the fledgling Spokane Valley is still trying to figure out how to provide basic services to its baby citizens.

Sure, things look a little rough right now, but like the Chinese, we see crisis as one-part danger and one-part opportunity. While local heroes and free marketeers try to stanch the bleeding of the here and now, we’d like to urge them all, standing at the crossroads, to step back and Think Big. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of our own big ideas for the region, to help jump-start a brain storm of progressive, out-there, forward-thinking pipe dreams.

After all, modern-day Spokane was built on the foresight and brave thinking of its earliest settlers. What was James Glover thinking, for instance, as he paced across open fields of bunchgrass and wildflowers and measured out Riverside Avenue, a street wide enough to accommodate traffic Glover never could have anticipated? Aubrey White thought big; so did Louis Davenport. The former built an award-winning city park system in Spokane because he knew that it might soon be too late to do so. The latter built one of the nation’s grandest hotels in a muddy little backwater frontier town.

More recently, little Spokane threw together a successful World’s Fair when no one thought it could. And though it’s only now becoming recognized as a big idea, we suspect the city’s implementation and innovative use of the broad wireless HotZone will go down as one of its biggest, most revolutionary ideas to date.

And that’s just the kind of thinking we’re reaching for. The kinds of big ideas that make up the textures of our communities. The kinds of plans that will make people wonder in fifty years, “What would this area have been like without (fill in the blank)?” Ours may not the be the most original or brilliant or even the most plausible ideas—in fact, our criteria roundly dismiss “do-ability” as pure negativism—but the point is, to borrow that loathsome old phrase, to think outside the box. To plan for the future before it’s too late. To think of what the Inland Empire could be, instead of settling for what it is at the moment.

And we hope this gets you thinking, too. Please join the conversation by sending us your big ideas.

Now let’s put on our thinking caps …

— JOEL SMITH

Merge Two Cities

You might recall that back in the mid-1990s, talk of a merger was all the rage. In fact, the idea of merging the city of Spokane and Spokane County was ultimately put to a vote. The arguments for the plan -- essentially, to create a more efficient local government -- were persuasive enough to win approval among city residents. Out in the county, however, it lost by a wide margin, and the plan died.

A few years later, citizens in the urban parts of Spokane Valley voted narrowly to form a city all their own. Their reasons were hard to pin down: Some wanted to separate from Spokane County; others worried the city of Spokane was going to annex them. So now we have two adjoining municipalities, both facing several of the same issues, both struggling to make ends meet.

If consolidation made sense in 1995, today, with rural residents out of the mix, those arguments make even more sense. Spokane and Spokane Valley should think about getting hitched.

To begin with, in the economic development game that cities across the nation are engaged in, size matters. How big your city is determines whether you'll get noticed by companies looking to relocate or even by those looking to set up a satellite office or retail outlet. At the moment, according to the 2000 census, Spokane, with 196,000 residents, clocks in at just under No. 100 among American cities by population. Spokane shares that distinction with cities like Des Moines, Iowa, Lubbock, Texas, and, of course, Tacoma. Add in the population of Spokane Valley, however, and the new city would move up 30 notches or so into the 60s with a population around 275,000. Other cities in that vicinity include Raleigh, N.C., Louisville, Ky., and Newark, N.J.

But being bigger just because it sounds better isn't enough of a reason to consolidate: This has to be about saving money. Right now, both cities have billing departments, street departments and on and on -- with managerial structures to match. (Spokane Valley contracts many of its services from Spokane County.) There would be significant savings to be had through consolidation, and the new city, hopefully, would emerge stronger and better able to create a more dynamic, financially healthy community. Living with perpetually struggling municipalities is no recipe for success.

And now that the city of Spokane is under new management, perhaps the suspicions of Valley residents (who would be represented on a new, bigger city council) could be overcome enough to get behind this kind of paradigm shift. It just might shake loose all kinds of unforeseen benefits. (Ted S. McGregor Jr.)

Already Underway

This is for those of you who think that there's nothing going on in the Inland Northwest. The fact is, plenty of big, out-of-the-box ideas are transforming our region. Plans for a Spokane science center are a perfect example. Chris Majer, outgoing chairman of the board for Inland Northwest Science and Technology, says the science center project recently merged with the Children's Museum.

"The funding is essentially done to build our children's museum in the basement of River Park Square," Majer says, adding that the children's museum will open in June. The museum will become "Mobius at River Park Square"; the name comes from Expo '74's logo. Former Gov. Gary Locke also secured about $1.5 million to move forward with architectural plans for "Mobius at the Michael Anderson Plaza," the official name for the science center planned for the north bank of Riverfront Park.

To get involved in the Children's Museum or Science Center, call 984-1400.

In addition, the Fox Theater continues to gain support for its renovation; there's hope the state legislature will chip in, and work to restore original murals in the theater has already begun. (See our story on page 55.)

To get involved with the Fox, call 624-5992.

And Thin Air Radio, a local, non-commercial answer to corporate radio, has proved a big hit for Spokane listeners.

To get involved with Thin Air Radio, call 747-3807.

Anyone with their eyes open realizes that the Spokane River is one of the greatest attributes to our region. Luckily there are big plans to make the Great Spokane River Gorge into the Gorge Park. This concept, originally proposed by the Olmsted Brothers in 1908, is finally being undertaken -- with lots of modern thinking.

To get involved in the Great Gorge Park, check out www.friendsofthefalls.org. (Cara Gardner)

People-Moving Plans

Imagine, if you will, the Cougars trouncing the Beavers in a rousing fourth-quarter comeback. You and your Sandpoint friends bounce out of Martin Stadium feeling victorious. In past years, you would have faced slogging through post-game traffic and then a long drive home. But this time, unlocking your bikes from the covered racks outside, you pedal across campus and make it to the station just as the bullet train swooshes in from Spokane. With the conductor's "all aboard," you shoulder your bicycles, hop up the steps and hang the bikes on a rack. The train sets off in the direction it came from, and within minutes you're speeding out through the rolling hills of the Palouse at 186 miles per hour. With only a few brief stops in Colfax, Cheney, Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, you pull into the final station -- Sandpoint -- less than an hour later. You all hop off the train, onto your bikes and pedal into town -- first to Eichardt's for a victory beer -- then home.

High-speed rail in the Inland Northwest isn't that far-fetched. Japan has its bullet trains, France its TGV. Even Amtrak has gotten into the game recently, with its Acela Express making the 440-mile trip between Washington, D.C., and Boston in only three hours. The Inland Empire is no Eastern seaboard at the moment, but high-speed rail -- and light rail in general -- are a worthy investment for the future.

Former Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin was quoted a few months ago as saying that if we don't work light rail into our planning for the area now, it may soon be too late. Figures from the 2000 census suggest that by 2025 the Spokane area will have grown from around 425,000 to 562,000 people. And considering the region's propensity for automobiles, you can just imagine what the streets will look like then. (Ah, the stench of gridlock!)

Here's what we recommend: Listen to McCaslin. Portland's light rail system has been a resounding success because they got in at the right time. And Seattle's light rail dreams have floundered for years because they joined the game too late. The Spokane area is at a perfect point in its development to consider, say, running a line from Medical Lake, through the airport and downtown Spokane, the Valley, and out to Liberty Lake -- eventually all the way to Coeur d'Alene. We've got unparalleled rights-of-way and early talks have yielded wide support.

And once that's running smoothly, we say break ground on a second line, running from Whitworth down through the University District, downtown, and up to the far South Hill. Both lines would link to existing bus services and, in the great wide future, the bullet train.

In the meantime, branching out into a more multimodal transportation scheme would only help circumvent the coming congestion. If you want to be near nature, near perfect, Spokane, you ought to embrace the bicycle. It's not that hard. You can start by throwing up some bike racks -- either the inverted "U" style or, as they do in Eureka, Calif., simple rings attached to pre-existing street signs. And quit stripping away bike lanes.

We suggest passing a city ordinance that would devote a certain percentage of street spending to alternative transportation. How's about 1 percent of all those street-bond dollars going to improving curbs and sidewalks and striping in some bikeways? A similar measure, passed at the state level in Oregon, has been a huge factor in that state's bike-friendliness.

Inland Northwesterners love their bikes and treasure their environment. Build them a bike park in downtown Spokane, where they can lock up and shower, fix a flat and buy a cup of coffee. Pick them up in an electric train and whisk them away to work -- in Hayden, Spokane Valley and Pullman. They'll be happy to be off the crude oil grid, and all the motorists whizzing freely down North Division will thank their lucky stars for progressive transportation planning. (Joel Smith)

More Downtown Housing

OK, so it's not particularly original, and for many cities the idea wouldn't even be considered "big." But Spokane desperately needs more downtown housing; we're craving affordable apartments and livable lofts, begging for a major explosion in downtown dwellings.

Spokane's downtown core has just more than 2,000 residents. That's a pretty low number if you consider the size of our city, the urban area and the plethora of spaces that could possibly house more folks. While each development project is faced with different sets of advantages and challenges, the main obstacles to increasing downtown housing seem to revolve around raising sufficient capital, finding willing investors and landowners, and dealing with difficult permitting policies. Some developers would rather take their cash and build new abodes in outlying areas rather than invest the same amount (or more) to upgrade a derelict downtown buildings. But there are some vacant lots that would be perfect for a new construction project -- some of which even overlook Riverfront Park.

There aren't any easy -- or cheap -- answers to how to overcome these challenges, but the solution isn't an enigma either. In fact, it's a clich & eacute;: if you build it, they will come. Downtown developers and landlords like Ron Wells and Dan Spalding (to name just a couple) have created some great living spaces ranging from affordable apartments to posh condos.

Local investors, developers and residents should focus on the long-term payoffs for a city with an abundance of downtown living, rather than the quick turnaround of a buck. As a community, Spokane would be wise to embrace the notion that ours is an urban core where people spend all 24 hours of a day, and not just one they drive in and out of during work hours. Spokane's true downtown isn't only the mall; it's flower shops and grocery stores and bars. It's coffeehouses, bookstores, hair salons, fire stations, gyms and churches -- and it's waiting for a more permanent populace. (Cara Gardner)

Embrace the Spokane River

With all the buzz about the Friends of the Falls' plans to build a whitewater park and an interpretive center, and to improve overall access -- and exposure -- to the Spokane River, it's looking like the city is finally beginning to understand the real civic and economic potential of its greatest natural resource. Thank God. Need we mention the Lincoln Street Bridge debacle?

But if we're going to start talking about the river over cocktails, let's talk big. The Friends of the Falls' plans ought to be funded and implemented. Their vision, and the diligent work of the dozens of organizations under their umbrella, would go a long way toward anchoring the river at the center of the city's imagination.

But more important than these plans themselves are the opportunities they engender. For example, if the city can establish itself as a whitewater destination, then it can start not only hauling in convention traffic but encouraging recreation-based businesses to set up shop.

How about kayak shops, a tackle store and a handful of adventure travel outfitters down in Peaceful Valley? You rent a boat and drag it right to the river. High up on the north bank, across the water, you can sit on the patio of a locally owned coffee shop, sipping java and watching the river roll by. When there's a whitewater tournament in town, you can hook up to the Wi-Fi network and keep track of scores and run times while watching the action below you. Finish up and ride your bike down the Centennial Trail and into Riverfront Park for the annual Spokane River Festival.

Earth to Spokane: People want to be near the river. If you build it, they will walk/shop/gawk at it. Look at San Antonio and the phenomenal success of their Riverwalk -- a whole lot of restaurants and chain stores overlooking a concrete channel filled with recycled water. And yet the Riverwalk has pumped the city full of money. What could Spokane do with a (mostly) natural river and a beautiful gorge area? We'll tell you: bump the quality of life even higher, attract new citizens, draw curious businesses, repeat.

Should Spokane finally embrace its river, however, it'll have to relearn an old lesson from the Expo days, when planners realized they couldn't very well throw an ecology-themed world's fair on a cramped, polluted, dirty stream. Use of the river must go hand-in-hand with care for the river. Kayakers and other river rats may flock to the banks en masse, but if they wade in and get their legs melted off, chances are they won't speak too kindly of Spokane back home. But pollution fears aren't an excuse not to develop the river area; they represent an opportunity to do both at the same time.

And once we build up a river-centric community, and a green economy, why not take this thing a step further? We applaud the city's Expo-days choice to change Trent Avenue to Spokane Falls Boulevard downtown and to feature the falls in the official civic logo (boxed in though it may be by the Monroe Street bridge). But let's go to the next level. After all, before early settlers ever started calling it "Spokane," this area was simply called "the Falls," then "Spokane Falls."

We think the latter still has a pretty nice ring to it. (Joel Smith)

Arthouse Theater

While we're probably OK on the coffee shop front around here, and we certainly have enough places to drink, the one thing that Spokane doesn't have that most downtowns do is an arthouse movie theater. We're talking those old theaters with the sparkling marquees, where sitting in the balcony is still an option and where audiences cheer as the thick crushed-velvet curtains open to reveal an enormous silver screen.

Really, it's not so far fetched. The Magic Lantern served that purpose for years, and the Met has taken up the slack in showing some of those more avant-garde films. But why not open an entire venue devoted to artsy-fartsy films? We could keep running those political and foreign films that the Met comes across, but add in the movies that Spokane seldom gets any sooner than a month after the rest of the world -- the Napoleon Dynamites and Million Dollar Babys of the world.

Anyone who has gotten a real tour around Portland has surely tasted a McMenamin's microbrew and has probably heard a thing or two about the company's legendary movie theaters.

What McMenamin's has done is utilize most any place that they can get their hands on, revamp it with their home-style atmosphere and create familiar pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and theaters. One theater is housed in a former Longshoreman's union hall. Another is in an old Middle Eastern-style theater. There's one in a former Masonic Lodge, and another is in the gymnasium of a closed elementary school. One stands in a defunct church.

Each location shows a mix of films -- from the popular SpongeBob SquarePants to old favorites like Twin Peaks episodes. But here's the best part: At every location, you aren't forced to shovel down overpriced popcorn. Patrons chow down on McMenamin's famous burgers and pizza, and wash it all down with as many microbrews as they can handle.

Why wouldn't this sort of theater survive in Spokane? Well, that's just it -- it would. Movies sell out all the time here, and seeing them in a neat location while being able to lounge on couches and sip fine beverages can't sound bad to anyone. We could locate one in any of the vacant buildings in downtown, or even in one of the historical homes in Browne's Addition. Pair up with the Elk owners, for example, locating a restaurant in one section and the movie theater in another. Open it up so artists can display their work. Host discounted tickets after First Friday. Rent the theater out for private parties. Host screenings related to the Flicker or Spokane International Film festivals. Encourage other showings by local filmmakers. Offer double features and drink specials.

And take a cue from McMenamin's -- an artsy movie theater can survive in just about any location. Be creative and keep people coming back for more. Next thing you know, you'll be introducing your Portland friends to Spokane's own arthouse theater. (Leah Sottile)

Indie Downtown Record Store

Pottery Barn can't make a city. Neither can Restoration Hardware. The answers to a thriving downtown can't be found in a basket of mozzarella sticks at Chili's or in a no-fat-no-sugar-caramel-vanilla blended whatever at Starbucks. Sure, all of the coffee and snacks and designer faucets you can pile into a downtown might fill up space -- but they're surely not going to make it tick.

That's where the culture comes in - that spice that makes every city taste different from any other. It's the way a certain city can sound at night, or the way locals will smile at you as you pass them on the sidewalks. That's the culture of a city. It's the heart that keeps the urban core thumping.

There are a million ways to get a city to that point, but we think one thing would surely give Spokane's downtown culture a nice kick in the ass: locate a record store in downtown.

Think about it: a sizable store humming with that activity that only musicians and music-lovers can conjure. Customers paw through piles of top-40 hits right next to underground DJs digging for those vinyl gems that'll make them big. A band sets up for a free in-store performance at a small, carpeted coffeehouse-like stage. Packs of teens trade their used CDs for store credit. Listeners don headphones to fill up their iPods at nearby computer kiosks dedicated to for-pay downloads. Local up-and-comers set up their new records and memorabilia in a "locals only" section, where concert flyers and calls for drummers paper the walls. Groups meet in an adjacent coffee shop, where customers flip through music magazines and sip their afternoon cup. Inside the glass booth over in the corner, two Thin Air radio deejays are broadcasting their weekly indie rock show. A spectrum of music starts to pulsate in downtown Spokane.

Sound like a pipe dream? It's not. In fact, similar business models have worked in cities just like Spokane.

For starters, take Boise's Record Exchange. Owner Michael Bunnell opened with only $5,000 and his record collection. Since its opening, the store has gone through nine expansions - eventually adding the first open-late coffee shop in downtown Boise and a gift shop similar to Boo Radley's here in Spokane. The store is a hangout, a meeting place, a haven and a cultural center. Bunnell says that opening a store of its kind in Boise was a risk, but a necessary one.

"This is still Idaho, and it can be a cultural void," he says. "We like to think we have become a real cultural center. I think people were hungry for a place that had some attitude and was willing to take some chances."

If Boise could welcome such a store, then so can Spokane. Locate it a few blocks from the main downtown area - maybe on Sprague or Second Avenue - to avoid higher rents. Make it a joint operation with Thin Air Radio. Host shows and CD release parties. Stay open late for kids who need something to do. Make it the place to be, meet, hang, listen and be inspired. (Leah Sottile)

One Big Happy Chamber

Goodbye, Spokane Area Chamber. Goodbye, Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce. Goodbye Post Falls, Hayden, Cheney, Airway Heights, Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake chambers. Welcome to the Inland Northwest Chamber of Commerce.

It's a merging and a flushing all at once: no more lip service to collaboration, no more competition, but a whole lot of marketing power and a mighty strong membership. Just imagine strengthening the strengths and lessening the weaknesses of our region. It might sound like a simple design for a complicated transformation, but it's a great big idea.

Forget this "separate but equal" chamber talk, where our regional heads rattle on about "dialogue" with their counterparts, while firing off passive-aggressive potshots. It's time to integrate, assimilate, become one. The Inland Northwest Chamber of Commerce is the best of all worlds -- the vast, industrial West Plains, the work pool of Spokane, the tourist destinations of Coeur d'Alene, the colleges and universities throughout these locations, in addition to the unique natural environment -- now how much better does that sound than any one city alone? Want to locate to our area? Gee, pick a state: Washington or Idaho? Not many chambers in the country can approach a business with two states' laws and tax codes to choose from.

It's time to admit that we do better together. Maybe Coeur d'Alene thinks it's doing just fine on its own, and perhaps Spokane's leaders are mumbling, "Idaho, Idaho, Idaho!" The truth is that the Lake City can't deny it benefits from Spokane's infrastructure, while Spokane should admit it's seeing some of those California rays beaming off North Idaho.

Each city could have its own chapter of the greater Inland Northwest Chamber of Commerce, in order to provide appropriate services and remain diligent about the needs of each community. But the region would have a united front for welcoming new residents and businesses to the greater Inland Northwest. We'll get the best businesses, and they'll get the best of both worlds. (Cara Gardner)

Embrace Our Regional Heritage

Places are defined by history. Boston is the birthplace of American independence. San Antonio evokes the words, "Remember the Alamo!" New Orleans is unique for being more French than English.

OK, so let's try it out here. Spokane is, um... where a handful of white guys got really rich on mining and timber until it all played out? No, that's no good. Let's try again. Spokane: a crossroads for native cultures dating back several centuries. There, that's better.

Many people have started to dig a little deeper into their histories and, as a result, have presented a more diverse -- and genuine -- portrait of who they are. In Hawaii, nobody talks about the sugar plantation owners who settled the islands in the 19th and 20th centuries; instead, Polynesian culture is everywhere.

How does Spokane figure into the larger cultural mosaic of modern America? Is it just another mid-sized city dutifully going about its business, or does it represent some deeper meaning? Spokane sits on important ground: The Spokane River Falls were a busy crossroads where members of various Plateau tribes traded and fished for centuries. That's a history worth celebrating. Somehow, that cultural history needs to be better expressed, especially in downtown Spokane.

Now there's a line that separates celebrating native culture and exploiting it. You could argue that the many luaus in Hawaii teeter uncomfortably toward exploitation. And there is an ulterior motive in this proposal, as well: to make this a place more people will want to visit. So the best way to avoid any whiff of exploitation is to include the region's tribes in planning how to celebrate their own culture. Ideally, in fact, turning it over to tribal members completely would be the way to go.

A key element in reaching this goal would be to find some kind of physical space for a Plateau Cultural Center. The stories of the different tribes could be presented, with rotating exhibits. Yes, this overlaps with the mission of the Northwest Museum of Arts & amp; Culture, and they'll need to be on board, too. The MAC has a lot of artifacts in its collection that could be involved -- not to mention expertise among its staff that would be crucial in pulling something like this off. After all, the MAC has always celebrated local native culture.

A space near the falls would be ideal. Fortunately, the backers of the Gorge Park are already tuned into the potential for a cultural center of some kind, so all these plans could dovetail nicely. And there's a building that might be perfect. The classic old brick Washington Water Power building on Post appears to be underutilized and spacious. It also just happens to occupy a primo perch above the falls.

Maybe in this year of seeking extensions on its licenses to dam the Spokane River, Avista could just give this building to the appropriate entity to honor the spirit of our river. In making such a generous gift to the region -- along with setting parameters on what it could be used for -- Avista could provide the spark such a project needs. And if one of the region's oldest companies helps promote a better understanding of native culture, we really could start talking -- finally -- about our shared heritage on this land. (Ted S. McGregor Jr.)

Spokane State University

It was one of those pivotal moments in history that would send waves out over the decades to come. When Washington state officials decided to locate Eastern Washington's big land-grant college in Pullman, it put Spokane at a disadvantage it never really has overcome. Other Western cities were similarly passed over -- cities like Portland, Boise and San Jose -- but they simply did not stand for it. That's why those cities have thriving state-run colleges all their own -- Portland State, Boise State and San Jose State. If you've read The Inlander for long, you've probably heard our columnist Robert Herold cite those institutions -- and the impact they make on their cities -- as proof of the need for a Spokane State University to right that historical wrong.

Maybe the time is finally ripe, as Spokane seems to be waking up to the fact that not having a major research institution -- a key function of a university -- is making life harder than it needs to be. Sure, we have strong presences in town from both Eastern Washington University and Washington State University, but that's not going to be good enough. As it stands now, decisions about what's best for Spokane have to be filtered through Cheney and Pullman before they ever even get to Olympia. Spokane's too big to be a branch of Pullman and Cheney -- and WSU and EWU have their own excellent institutions to mind.

The issue of control is all about what programs are going to be offered here. Our strong private colleges -- Whitworth and Gonzaga -- can help fill in some of the blanks, but if we really want better engineering, biotechnology or computer science graduate programs in Spokane, we'll have to fight for them.

The good news is Spokane already has a site -- the huge University District just east of downtown-- that has been growing with the help of the legislature (and EWU and WSU, too). It's a perfect place for an urban commuter campus. It will take public money, but not only will the public investment bring economic development to Spokane and the Inland Northwest, but the jobs that are created should also help pump money back into the state's coffers.

Sometimes our existing institutions aren't up to the task; that's when we need to create new ones. Even the most hallowed Ivy League schools only started when people who saw a need stood up and did something about it. In fact, what better articulation of hope for the future can there be than an effort to create a new institution of higher learning?

As we've all found out with Gonzaga's national recognition in sports, a university can be a big part of a community's self-image. And let's face it: The Mighty Marmot would make a hell of a great mascot. (Ted S. McGregor Jr.)

Saturday Market

If you've ever visited the neighborhood farmers' market in Seattle's U-District, you know how lively it is. Neighbors meet neighbors, the sense of community is palpable and farmers -- many of whom farm organically -- make their living. Another thing you'll notice is that a lot of the farmers are from Eastern Washington.

It's not surprising that these farmers can make more money in Seattle, but it would be nice to keep more of them here on the dry side. The Inland Northwest boasts a number of thriving farmers' markets -- two around downtown Spokane, one in Liberty Lake, one in Moscow, one in Hayden, just to name the bigger ones -- but we still seem to be missing our opportunity to have a really big one like those in Missoula and Portland. Ideally, of course, Spokane's new and really big market would take place downtown on Saturday mornings.

Jim Frank, the developer who built a lot of Liberty Lake, has taken a great interest in farmers' markets. He's traveled the country to study the successful ones, and he's even helped establish several here in the region, including Liberty Lake's popular market. He's says that as much as anything, the Saturday market in Liberty Lake serves as a glue to hold the community together.

"The key to it is that it has become the place to be on Saturday mornings," says Frank.

But Frank is all about business, too, and the fact that markets like Pike Place in Seattle have been very successful business incubators is not lost on him. (You may have heard of a little outfit that started with a tiny storefront at Pike Place in the '70s: Starbucks.)

"It's an opportunity to support local agriculture and local quality craftspeople," says Frank. "There was a guy making Cajun spices, and he ends up getting them into Albertsons. Another guy who makes furniture opened his own little shop."

This is by no means a critique of the Spokane Marketplace (just north of the river on Washington) or the Spokane Farmers' Market (at Second and Browne). But a seasonal market featuring farmers and craftspeople, centrally located, could become not only a major event but also another piston in Spokane's economic engine. Hopefully, those existing markets could be involved in this more ambitious undertaking.

There's always talk of finding a permanent location, but Franks says most of the best markets just set up on a street temporarily closed by the local municipality. (Pike Place, with its permanent location, is a bit of an anomaly.) Frank says he was part of discussions to put a market in downtown Spokane back in 2002, but all kinds of irrational opposition put the kibosh on it. But the location, he says, is still perfect: a closed-off Post Street between Riverside and Main.

Agriculture is a key part of the culture of Eastern Washington, and there's no better way to reinforce that than by creating a mega-Saturday market in the region's urban core. (Ted S. McGregor Jr.)

Random Recreation

Sure, Spokane might have a shortage of jobs, downtown housing and newly paved streets. But we're overflowing with one thing: booze. Pubs, taverns, watering holes -- there's no shortage of bar stools in this town. And if Spokane feels such a need to inebriate itself, then local bar and club owners should capitalize by thinking creatively. Why not make drinking even more fun?

Take the Garage in Seattle, for example. In addition to having some of the best billiards in town, the joint features high-class bowling in a lounge-ish, hipster setting. Or how about Memphis' slurpee bars? Patrons saddle up to a bar stool and order blended drinks from the Slurpee-like spigots behind the bar. San Francisco's AsiaSF boasts a fleet of drag queen waitresses, who perform on a catwalk-like stage while you dine. A West Hollywood sushi bar offers "body sushi" - where patrons dine off of the naked body of a female model. Missoula boasts some licensed premises where you can do some laundry and down some beers at the same time.

Spokane needs to get a little more creative with its nightlife. How about our own laundro-pub? (We could call it Suds 'n' Suds.) How about a beach-themed bar, where bouncers watch from lifeguard chairs as patrons sip down blended boozies on a sand-covered floor?

Or what about dancing that's a little more fun than the bump and grind of the Big Easy? Someone should take advantage of the dorkiness of square dancing, open a club and feature drinks named "the Do-Si-Do" or the "Hey Paw!"

We think a bar mimicking the kitschy feel of the L.A./New York/San Francisco Beauty Bar -- a bar that nods to the glitz, glamour and go-go feel of a 1960s beauty school would go over great in Spokane. Patrons sit under vintage hair dryers, order drinks like the "Platinum Blonde," get henna tattoos and receive manicures. It'd have Spokanites lining up around the block.

A bar devoted to making crafts. An American Idol-themed bar that hosts competitions and pays homage to the addictive television show. A board game bar. Even an Expo '74 bar would be fun. Opening bars and nightspots that give customers some sort of "experience" are way more fun than just the same old, "where everybody knows your name" joints that saturate Spokane. Bring people downtown with an experience they'd never forget -- and we're sure they'll keep coming back. Hell, the mechanical bull at Trickshot Dixie's worked. (Leah Sottile)

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  • Holiday Hype

    Before Thanksgiving is even here, Spokane hosts three big Christmas-themed shows
    • Nov 19, 2014
  • Culture Digest
  • Culture Digest

    TV | History Problems
    • Nov 19, 2014
  • For Your Consideration
  • For Your Consideration

    Weed delivery, an anti-carol, and noises that give you the heebie-jeebies.
    • Nov 19, 2014
  • More »

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