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Worthy Role Models 

by Ted S. McGregor, Jr.


We moved The Inlander offices downtown last fall into the old Chamber of Commerce building -- site of many a backroom deal, according to local lore. Out front there's an inscription on the building that always takes me back to the old days of Spokane. "Erected in the year 1930 by the citizens of Spokane as a tribute to the city they love."


I suppose you have to think of something touching when you're carving words into stone, but there's still something sweet and enduring about it. The idea of loving your city seems almost quaint these days, as bashing city government over the controversy du jour has become an official public pastime. But the corny-sounding, clich & eacute;-ridden, Capra-esque idea of doing something for "the city they love" came back to me this week as we've covered the reopening of the grand old Davenport Hotel.


If this was an episode of This Old House, Norm and Tommy would have needed therapy after the mere sight of the languishing hotel. What else but crazy love would get somebody to sell many of his possessions to buy what can only be described as a bona fide money pit? Well, that's just what Walt Worthy has done in rescuing Spokane's crown jewel from the junk heap of history. Sure, Worthy is in it to make money, and it sounds like he has a solid business plan. But he also seems to be channeling that Spokane energy that created so many beautiful old buildings in the first place, the energy that laid out the city's park system, that spawned Bloomsday, Hoopfest and Expo. It's an energy that's fed by the willingness to take risks.


At the turn of the century, that kind of energy (along with tons of silver from the mines in the region) was driving Spokane to the top of the heap among Western cities. The Davenport Hotel was but one manifestation of that push to be the best. It's a testament to the dedication of the city's forefathers and mothers that we can unearth an old treasure like the Davenport in our effort to restore and promote Spokane's authenticity -- the commodity all cities are seeking these days.


Walt and his wife Karen are good role models for Spokane today. Far from its heady early days, today the city has to fight for whatever progress it can get. Similarly, the Worthys know the value of a dollar -- there are no silver spoons in their mouths; they've earned every penny. To have spent a lifetime earning it and then to risk it all (or at least a lot of it) on the Davenport is audacious in all the right ways. Yes, bringing the hotel back to life is a crucial piece of the Spokane puzzle; but just as crucial is the example the Worthys have set for the rest of us. Teddy Roosevelt (who once stayed a night at the Davenport) said the world was split between doers and critics -- and we all know which camp he sympathized with. In Spokane, there's no shortage of critics. It's the doers we need more of -- especially from the private sector. For too long, public projects have been the only projects to dot the map. Hopefully the Davenport will be a harbinger of private investments to come.


There are many others who are taking risks and slowly but surely making Spokane a better place to live. But due to the significance of their project, the Worthys are making a bigger splash than the rest. Like the kids first to jump off those high rocks into the water below, they are showing that it can be done. Is it risky? Yes, you can hit the rocks. The history of Spokane is filled with stories of people who experienced booms and busts, and it's the same today. The only difference is that in the old days there seems to have been an overriding impulse to go ahead and take risks, at least in part, on behalf of your city. Now personal fortunes and corporate considerations push decisions toward the "play not to lose" end of the spectrum. As we know from football, playing not to lose is a recipe for mediocrity.


Hopefully, others high on the rocks will see that taking risks is the one sure proof of life and they, too, will take that leap of faith for "the city they love."
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