Spokane is a city with a split personality. Most of us feel fortunate to live here, yet there is significant public cynicism and anxiety. We live in a beautiful area with magnificent natural resources, affordable housing and an outstanding educational system. We have large, competitive, convenient retail centers and substantial new investment in our region.
The vitality of the region, however, depends on a healthy core. I don't know of any successful city that doesn't have a vibrant and attractive core area. It has to be the heart of the community.
Shopping centers don't solve the problem, because they are strictly retail. They will never offer the amenities available downtown: an opera house, convention center, main library, sports arena, special theaters for live performances, premier hotels and quality retail, restaurants and bistros. Spokane's downtown reflects our city's soul, indicating to prospective residents and employers that we are more than just a small town.
Fortunately, there are things that can be done to improve both the perception and the reality of downtown Spokane.
The Entrance -- The main entrance from the north or south is Division Street. The exit off the freeway is embarrassing, and many of the buildings between Sprague and Spokane Falls Blvd. on Division and Browne should be remodeled. It's like having a beautiful home with an ugly front yard.
Compare this with the grand Northwest Boulevard entrance into Coeur d'Alene. The improvements to the Division exit from the freeway could be funded primarily by federal highway funds.
Parking: * Between Cedar and Division, between Spokane Falls Blvd. and Second Ave., diagonal parking should be implemented wherever possible, even if on only one side of the street.
* Two-hour meters should be used everywhere at 25 cents for each half-hour. If you need to park longer than two hours, use off-street parking.
* Free on-street parking should start at 5 pm, not 6. If you want people to shop, dine and attend entertainment, don't charge for parking after 5 pm.
* Parking violations should be $5, with a drive-up window available for easy payment. A bank might conceivably agree to accept these payments at one of their drive-up windows.
* Meter people should void tickets if violators return before they put the ticket on the car.
* Meter people should be ambassadors for the city -- pleasant and helpful.
* Parking rates by the city or private lots should not be allowed to increase their fees during special events. Many people come from out of town and relate this to the cost of doing business in the downtown area.
Expand SIRTI -- We should help the expansion of SIRTI to become a regional research center, ideally with a consortium of EWU, WSU, UW, and neighbor GU. No "turf wars" -- just putting forth the best resources the state and our local community have available.
Convention Center -- The best site is on the south side of Spokane Falls. I hope that our successful, property owning neighbors will make this available at an affordable price. The originally proposed price for the building was far too expensive.
Sell the STA Plaza -- We should redesign the public transit system to include the sale of the downtown transit center to be used for the private or public sector (for a Science Center?). We could utilize the old Northern Pacific Terminal area as the terminus from which small free trolleys could operate. The free-ride zone should include the medical centers on the near South Hill, SIRTI, the lower north side, Gonzaga and the County Courthouse.
A small shopping complex should be located near the transit center, with food and pharmacy so that people can take care of basic needs before returning home. These changes can be funded by selling or leasing the downtown center and by reallocating current revenue along with reductions in costs.
Clean It Up -- For the sake of the entire city, ask the Fire Department for help in tidying up by washing the streets and sidewalks.
Solve the Garage problem -- This debacle has confused, frustrated, demoralized and divided the public. There are no winners. The developers may say "Let the court decide," but that might take years. This continuing delay is unfair, expensive and harmful to the community.
The path of least resistance is to do nothing. We are operating in an environment that doesn't reward creativity and courage. Change requires confrontation and hard work. We don't need more studies or committees; we need action. And we need a damn good "General" with the vision, authority and guts to get the job done.
Dave Hamer was founder and proprietor of Hamer's men's clothing stores for more than 40 years. Two years ago, he shuttered his business, including its downtown Spokane store at Riverside and Post.
Publication date: 04/24/03