Monday, August 18, 2014

STA board chair, member: Future of the Plaza isn't "dim"

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 3:17 PM

A Sunday Spokesman-Review story — “Signs point to dim future for STA Plaza: Transit board member predicts hub will be forced to leave downtown” — began by saying that Spokane Valley Councilman Chuck Hafner predicted the Plaza would be forced to move because of downtown business opposition.

That flew in the face of what Hafner, former chair of the Spokane Transit board of directors, and other board members have been saying for years. Reached by phone today, Hafner directly contradicts the Spokesman’s characterization of his views.

“To me, the STA Plaza has a future downtown,” Hafner says. He says he can't understand why the Spokesman headline called the future of the Plaza “dim.”

Instead, Hafner says his point was that opposition to the Plaza's downtown location from groups like Visit Spokane, Downtown Spokane Partnership and Greater Spokane Inc. will continue no matter what the transit agency does.

“This is so ingrained that I don’t know if you’re going to change anybody’s mind,” Hafner says, explaining opposition will “continue and continue and continue… until the STA board says a definite, ‘This is where we’re going to stay.'”

Indeed, some downtown business interests, including the Cowles Company, which owns the Spokesman-Review  and River Park Square, have raised concerns about the impact of Plaza patrons. But the STA board, not downtown business groups, controls the Plaza’s future. 
While the board voted to delay the renovations in order to answer the questions raised by those groups, it voted last year to keep the Plaza in the same location. A study on the question highlighted major costs and problems with moving or closing the Plaza.
The actual chance of the Plaza being moved is extremely unlikely, Hafner says.

“That’s the last thing in my estimation right now. Why would we move it? Look at the cost,” Hafner says. He also argues that moving the Plaza to a less central location would inconvenience workers who commute to downtown. Unless some uniquely compelling alternative for moving the Plaza were presented, he doesn’t think the board would even consider it.

Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref, the current STA board chair, also doesn’t see any appetite for a Plaza relocation. “No board member has come to me and said, ‘Maybe we should move,'” Waldref says.

In fact, she says, that’s not even what the conversations between STA and business leaders have been about.
"I’ve spent the last three weeks talking with [DSP President] Mark Richard, working to put together these facilitated meetings,” says Waldref. “Mark and I are on the same page: We’re not talking about moving the plaza.”

She says she’s open to discussions about how downtown transit will look like a decade from now, but any of those conversations rely on the STA acquiring more funding.

In an email sent out to other STA board members this afternoon, Waldref calls the Spokesman headline inaccurate:

I woke up on Sunday morning to a Spokesman Review headline that I believe inaccurately represented the views of this Board and the direction we have been taking in working with stakeholders regarding the STA Plaza. I hope the other Board members feel, like I did, that the headline was not reflective of the information shared to the reporter.

I know we are all frustrated by the amount of time we have spent on the “Plaza” topic over the last 2 years, which has taken away from our ability to make innovative changes to  our system to improve and strengthen transit access in Spokane County. However, the Board voted last year to remain committed to using the STA Plaza as our major operations hub. We as the Board agreed to pause the Plaza renovations to receive more input from Downtown stakeholders and I have been working diligently on your behalf to make that process one that brings value to all involved in the conversation.

Here is my update to you. Please feel free to contact me at any time on my cell phone if you have any questions or concerns about the process.

I have been in almost daily conversation with Mark Richard of the DSP for three weeks. I had several requests for Mark and he has been very accommodating. I asked that the STA Board Operations Committee (me, Al French, Mike Allen, Tom Trulove) be the representatives of STA at any meetings. I also requested a neutral, outside facilitator to help identify mutual goals and structure the meetings to get to outcomes. I am meeting this week with Mark, the facilitator and other DSP leadership to help put together the agenda for the first meeting, which should be scheduled soon for next week. The two areas of facilitated conversation will be: 1. input into (re)design of building; 2. Input into long-term vision for Plaza and downtown transit (any change from use of Plaza in the 10 year+ future will take a planning process that includes many other stakeholders, as well).

I am very hopeful that this process will bring out all concerns and issues and give STA staff and Board a chance to listen, learn and also for downtown stakeholders to listen and learn and that all input will be given by mid-November so this Board can “move forward” with decisions regarding redesign of the Plaza AND that this Board can receive input on our 10-year Moving Forward program and make a decision by end of the year regarding a ballot measure.

If you have concerns or input, please let me know. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

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Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters was a staff reporter for the Inlander from 2009 to 2023. He reported on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.His work investigated deep flaws in the Washington...