Before Spokane Transit can plan for the future -- be it light rail, streetcars or something even cooler -- it first has to figure out what to do with its downtown Plaza.
Initially five options were on the table, but three have already been spiked because they cost too much. The eliminated proposals: adopt a "grid" system with more frequent bus service and no downtown center; build a transit mall with rider amenities, perhaps on Riverside Avenue; or sell the Plaza and keep two smaller edge-of-downtown hubs.
On Thursday, a consultant and STA staff will present the final two options to the transit board. One involves renovating the Plaza to increase future capacity ($1 to $1.5 million). The other requires selling it and building something at the Intermodal Center, the hub for Amtrak and Greyhound about six blocks to the southeast ($3 to $3.5 million for construction, more for operational changes).
Which way are folks leaning?
"I asked the consultant not to make a recommendation because there is a good deal of interest," STA's CEO Susan Meyer says. She has also asked the transit board not to rush any decision after hearing Thursday's presentation.
The process will require some diplomacy. The Plaza, built for $20 million and opened in 1995, has its critics, namely business owners who complain that it doesn't fit with the clean-cut image downtown is trying to project. (Meyer, before joining the STA, also opposed the location while she was a business leader.)
Meyer now takes a middle-of-the-road tack. Asked for the pros and cons of the final two options, she speaks in generalities. "In a nutshell, already having a building that is paid for is a definite plus," she says.
Part of the reason she's stalling a decision on the Plaza is to prevent voters from confusing the issue with a May ballot measure asking them to reauthorize part of a sales tax that funds transit operations.
After the May vote, STA plans to hold several meetings to gather public input on the Plaza decision. But bus riders have already made their preference clear: 98 percent surveyed in the fall said they want the Plaza to stay right where it is.