Rising From the Davenport

by The Inlander & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's a little silly to straddle a line on a sidewalk and claim that you've got one foot inside an arts district and one foot out. But maybe a line of demarcation like that is what the Davenport District needs to raise its profile.

Back in 1990, the Friends of the Davenport produced the so-called Halcyon Report, specifying the purposes and identity of the area around what was then a dilapidated hotel; the report was the first to promote the idea of a Davenport District. The current "Experience Spokane Visitors Map" draws a line around the Davenport District. It delineates about a dozen blocks centered on the Davenport Hotel and extending from Sprague on the north to Second Avenue on the south, and from Madison Street on the west to Howard on the east (with an additional spur block on the east to accommodate the Lorinda Knight Gallery). Interplayers holds down the district's extreme southeast corner (at Second and Howard).

Even if you have dinner just outside the official boundaries but then attend an opening at an art gallery or take in a show within it, then you're contributing to the hipster scene downtown. That's why even Davenport District advocates are a little fluid in their indications of just where the DD is located.


Not only are the boundaries smudged, even the name's unstable. Karen Mobley heads the Spokane Arts Commission and was a member of the committee that wrote a January 2002 Strategic Action Plan for the district. She recalls that at the time of the 2002 report, "there were not a lot of arts actually in the district. So the decision was made to call it the Davenport District" and leave the "Arts" out of it. "The emperor got new clothes," she jokes, before quickly adding, "That isn't true now."

And she's right. Without question, the district has some big anchors: Steam Plant, Big Easy, CenterStage, the Met (being reborn as the Bing at a gala event on Dec. 8), the Fox housing the Symphony as of next fall, and of course the Davenport Hotel itself. Arts-related venues and events are on the upswing -- ironically, in a district that no longer claims the "Arts" in its name.

In just three adjacent blocks, the Big Easy, the soon-to-be Bing Crosby Theater, the Fox and CenterStage provide almost a literal lineup of music and performing arts complexes. A rough count suggests that there are about eight art galleries within the district's boundaries -- 10, if you stretch the definition of "gallery" a bit.


At one stroke in 2002, by removing the middle word from the phrase "Davenport Arts District," the committee essentially underscored the centrality of Walt Worthy's hotel while at the same time marginalizing the district's artistic emphasis. And yet the district's logo artfully combines an artist's brush, a pair of happy/sad drama masks, and a musical staff to suggest how art galleries, theater and live music create the central attractions.

Similarly, the slogan used in this fall's advertising blitz for the district -- "The heart of the city: Where live music and fine art meet for dinner and a nightcap" -- highlights a split in the district's target demographic between performing arts and visual art. As gallery owner Lorinda Knight points out, whereas people will come downtown for dinner and a movie, or live music and drinks (or all of the above), they don't swarm downtown for something to eat and a quick peek at an art gallery. Theaters and live-music venues are destination draws; art galleries (with the exception of the wine-and-cheese gatherings during the extended hours of the First Friday events) are not.

Lorinda Knight has run the gallery bearing her name for 10 years, and she's a member of the Davenport District marketing committee. Asked why the district's boundaries don't have more prominent physical indicators, she quickly replies, "Oh, there are banners," she says. Then she laughs. "I just finally got a banner after years of requesting one. And then, after a few weeks, they put up a generic one."

To the extent that the Davenport District is frequented as much by out-of-town visitors as by locals, street-level signs would seem to make sense. It's the difference between "Oh, the map says that's the Railside Center -- I wonder what's in there?" and a sign indicating that the GoodWorks Gallery is two blocks that-a-way.

Getting help from the city or from the Convention & amp; Visitors Bureau, however, can prove problematic. "We'd like to collaborate more with the CVB," says Knight, "but they tend to sell golf and skiing and the Grand Coulee Dam more than the arts."

Jeanna Hofmeister, director of destination marketing for the CVB, responds that while "Spokane's in-house ad agency" may not mention the Davenport District directly in its TV or radio ads, it does market the arts aggressively -- to the point that tour bus operators have been treated to expeditions around the still-in-progress Fox renovation.


Even beyond the problem of familiarizing visitors with how walkable the Davenport District is, there's the hurdle of getting locals familiar with what's downtown -- because local residents "tend to take what's here for granted," says Knight. "If a native hasn't walked the pavement and been here, that's the problem. They haven't walked the pavement -- they don't know what's here, as strange as that may seem."

Area residents have fuzzy notions of the Davenport District's location and purpose because its precise location and purpose isn't fully relevant to them: If they can park downtown within walking distance of a restaurant, an arts venue and maybe a bar for a late-night drink, they're happy -- and it doesn't matter whether any of those are located inside or outside some abstract district, or even whether or not lots of other artsy events are transpiring within the same dozen blocks of downtown. After all, on a given night, I can only eat a single dinner -- and I'm probably only going to attend one cultural event.

Yes, there is such a thing as bar-hopping, though the demographic there trends less gray. But ask gray-haired Interplayers subscribers or hipsters circling for a parking place near the Big Easy on a Saturday night, and you get similar responses -- their concern is with logistics. Where do I park? How far will I have to walk? Will it be safe?

A quick answer to all three: You're not in South Central L.A. For those of us who moved here from major metro areas, Spokane's urban core has always seemed like a little toy downtown -- a little (but not much) more complicated than navigating around Lego Land. So of course it's walkable and safe.

When you ask people about the biggest and most noticeable changes in the Davenport District over the past several years, the most common response has to do with the 1000 block of West First Avenue (just two blocks west of the Davenport Hotel). A hotel, restaurants, art galleries and a performing arts complex have transformed a block (blending onto South Monroe Street) that just a decade ago was Spokane's version of Boston's Combat Zone: nothing but drugs and prostitution and drunks passed out in alleys.

But hidden within such concerns, even if they're exaggerated, is an opportunity: Arts patrons will return to an urban center's Fun Zone of the Arts if they feel familiar with it and comfortable while there. Get them to walk through your arts venue's doors once, and it gains prominence in their mental map of Stuff To Do -- making it that much more likely that they'll return to be artsy another day. The trick lies in attracting the Never-Done-Thats for the first time and in giving frequent arts customers reason to come back again and again.

Many date Spokane's downtown revitalization to the 1999 opening of River Park Square, and it's a point that's hard to argue with. But Knight sounds a familiar theme when she says, "What makes an arts district lively are the small, unique establishments -- the galleries and shops. They add character and make it accessible."

As for what will keep the Davenport District resurgence going, Knight has a ready answer. "Individuals making individual decisions to open arts-related businesses."

But first those individuals need to be well capitalized. "That's exactly right," Knight rejoins, laughing. "You took the words right out of my mouth."

Money and a willingness to take a risk -- sort of like the qualities Knight herself exemplified 10 years ago, when she opened an art gallery in a downtown that had exactly one other (the Douglas Gallery, since closed). Now there are 13 visual art venues within the District boundaries and another half-dozen scattered around the greater downtown area. Hang the art and they will browse.


The Davenport District's January 2002 Strategic Action Plan, now five years old (it was written throughout late 2001), provides a benchmark for measuring how far the district has come and how far it yet might go.

The 2002 committee marked the eastern boundary of the District at Post Street rather than at Howard; it admitted, "The District's boundaries are not exclusionary" and "are not well known," even though it cites the Davenport, Met/Bing, Fox and Steam Plant Square as anchors.

The SAP notes that "The Met Theater alone had over 300 event nights last year, representing 157,500 patrons [figuring on half-capacity houses], and the Spokane Symphony believes that it will add another 400 additional yearly events and 325,000 attendees once the Fox Theater is restored."

A monthly schedule of events for the Met from January 2004, selected almost at random -- and counting three-a-day film showings as three separate events -- does indeed show more than 50 things taking place in that one month alone, suggesting that 400 events annually was well within capacity. But with the Met no longer subsidized by Met Mortgage, owner Mitch Silver has had to cut back on less profitable events. Perhaps only half as many event-going opportunities have existed at the Met in recent months.

The 2002 Strategic Action Plan scorecard shows hits and misses: Davenport Hotel refurbished and expanded -- check; Fox on the way -- check; First Fridays, First Night -- check.

But any number of other suggested improvements to the district envisioned five years ago have not materialized: improved transportation within the district; areas of angled on-street parking; creating a distinctive identity for the district; transforming a couple of parking lots on First Avenue (at Post and at Monroe) into, ideally, artists' live/work lofts or high-tech businesses; a new District parking garage; highway exit signs directing the way to the Davenport District.

But it's easy to look at a five-year-old wish list and spot the gaps. Perhaps some of the best envisioning of the Davenport District's future uses comes from Tom Sciortino, co-owner of Wild Sage restaurant. "I like the idea of homes sprinkled in with businesses," he says. "We certainly have to pay attention to downtown -- there has to be more police presence, although it certainly feels safer and more vibrant than five years ago, with the effort to clean it up."

Another thing that needs to continue, says Sciortino, is "making incentives for improvements to buildings, to get good tenants in closed-up buildings -- we still have a lot of closed-up and vacant spaces. We need more upscale, but also a mix of things."

Some people, Sciortino observes, feel uncomfortable with panhandling and with seeing homelessness on the streets. "But that goes with a larger city -- it's part of the human equation," he says.

Sciortino also values diversity in the downtown core. "I don't want everything to be extremely high-end. I love seeing the galleries pop in, but I think nonprofits have their place downtown," he says. (Wild Sage itself is located next door to the Women's Hearth.)

"I don't want to see it sterile," says Sciortino. "I want to see more affordable housing, not just the high-end condos -- to see younger kids, first-time homeowners, a mixture of ages."

The best kind of arts district isn't merely about people in berets ogling sculptures. It's about a variety of people, of all types, living actively in a city's center -- enjoying the arts, sure, but also living full and satisfying lives.

-Michael Bowen

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ny destination district worth the name has to offer eclectic dining in a range of prices. To draw people into a neighborhood, it must have interesting sights, fun things to do -- and good places to eat, drink and simply hang out.

The dining options within and immediately proximate to the Davenport District have blossomed in the last five years. A decade ago, when the district (then the Davenport Arts District) was in its infancy and the hotel was shuttered with an uncertain future, dining within district boundaries was limited to the Old Spaghetti Factory on Monroe, Niko's at Post and Riverside, and then-newcomer Fugazzi at Post and Sprague. (Other downtown restaurants operated at that time, of course, but their locations were beyond the district's boundaries.)

Today, more than a dozen restaurants offer everything from quick lunches to bistro fare to elegant fine dining within the district; several other newcomers are within easy walking distance, and more are in the planning or construction phases. And it's notable that the three veterans from a decade ago are still in business. Clearly, having a vital and thriving Davenport Hotel at the heart of the district -- a magnet for thousands of out-of-town visitors annually -- has sparked much of the neighborhood's resurgence.

"If the Davenport hadn't opened, we wouldn't be here," says Tom Sciortino, one of the owners of Wild Sage, the most recent addition to the district's dining scene. "The hotel was the genesis for the whole area. That's where the energy builds -- from the hotel. That's where I see a lot of people walking around. That's what I think has brought the whole neighborhood forward."

Sciortino and his partners purchased the 1911 former auto showroom at the corner of Second and Lincoln from developer Ron Wells and renovated the interior without significantly changing the historic exterior. They opened for business in March and have been gaining customers through word of mouth ever since. Even though Wild Sage is at the southern edge of the district, it's on the list of restaurants recommended by the Davenport Hotel's concierge desk for guests looking to see what Spokane has to offer.

"I think [the hotel] really did start the redevelopment of the area," Sciortino says. "I look at the hotel as a gift to the downtown. It made the opportunities possible for a lot of others like myself to take on a business downtown."

The trajectory from the mid-'90s to the present hasn't been a steady growth curve, however, especially in other areas of downtown. As recently as 2003, concerns about the health of the downtown dining arose with the successive closures of Cucina Cucina, Chevy's and Quinn's, which had opened in the former Travo's space at Lincoln and Sprague. That corner was star-crossed for a time, with the brief tenancy of JoeCo Brazil's following Quinn's demise. A year ago, Ian Wingate opened his second Sprague Avenue venture, Bluefish, in the space; all appears steady.

Perhaps the most stunning change for a time-traveler visiting from the mid-'90s would be near the corner of Monroe and First Avenue. Now home to Brooklyn Deli, Catacombs, Far West Billiards and ella's -- along with CenterStage, the Montvale Hotel and several art galleries -- that block was better known for surveillance cameras and commerce of a different kind a dozen years ago. Then, it was a part of town to avoid; now, it's a destination.

Sciortino is happy to be part of the neighborhood's turnaround. "I think it's a pretty exciting time in our city," he says. "If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't have stayed here. I've made a real commitment to Spokane. I spent time in Boise, and I thought about going to Seattle. But I really thought there was an opportunity here that was lacking in those places -- the opportunity to be ahead of the curve. I stayed here because I chose to. I saw the momentum."

-by Ann M. Colford

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n one of the several meetings that bore this cover package, the editorial staff discussed the boundaries of the Davenport District. Where did it begin? Where did it end? The physical dimensions were hard to track down, but it was generally agreed that a healthy arts district would naturally bleed out into the surrounding neighborhoods, spreading beyond its boundaries. Once we pinned down exactly where the Davenport District was, it became clear that good, solid music had indeed bled out into the greater downtown area -- even as far north as the area around the Arena -- but in doing so had bled much of the Davenport District dry.

In the last year Rock Coffee closed, Empyrean closed and the Twilight Room closed. Ella's, in the last three months, has had hiccups in its usually steadfast five nights of jazz. As a result, there's not as much live music happening in the Davenport District as you'd expect for what's advertised as an arts district, and there's no sign that it's coming back in the short term.

The closure that caused the most waves was Rock's, both for the impact to the music scene and the sketchy circumstances that surrounded it. Of the four venues that stepped up to absorb Rock's estimated 25 monthly shows, only CenterStage and Blue Spark were physically in the District. The involvement of both, though, proved short-lived. Caterina Winery, on North Washington near the Arena, has taken the bulk of Rock's shows.

There is a lack of good spaces for potential venues to move in the Davenport District, and those that exist are too expensive for most small or local acts. The Luminaria Building, which housed the Empyrean until it was unceremoniously shuttered in October, has a nice, old, garage-like space on the south end and plenty of room for a business like a mixed-use venue to sprawl. Empyrean was big, cozy and, most important, functional, but it failed. Former owner Alex Caruso, in a letter sent shortly after closing, said the venture was "initially undercapitalized" and in an "unproven area of downtown." It certainly didn't help matters that it was located on the wrong side of Madison -- just outside the District. If the venue had been on the east side of the street, it would have enjoyed special city tax breaks, which would have no doubt aided the venue's thin capital. The District's boundaries have been redrawn in the past to include art-oriented businesses like the Artist's Tree and even coffee shops like the Brews Brothers on Sprague and Post. Such boundaries were not redrawn to accommodate Empyrean or turntable hotspot Raw Sushi, which also sits just outside the boundary.

Rock Coffee was well within the District's limits, but the rent was astronomical, says Patrick Kendrick, the venue's manager. The new location, on Garland just west of Monroe, is actually cheaper than the old one, he says, despite being "much bigger."

The venues that remain in the Davenport District -- the Met, CenterStage/ella's and the Big Easy -- either underutilize their space consistently or have seen a decline in the number of shows recently. After buying the venue in the wake of the Met Mortgage scandal, new owner Mitch Silver told The Inlander that he'd like to start bringing acts on the order of Paul Simon to the 650-seat theater. "I would love to bring in some very big-name music," he said, wanting the intimate setting to get them "up-close and personal." To date, the closest the Met has come to fielding Paul Simon was a night with Yahoo! yodeler Wylie Gustafson and his traveling show. CenterStage's dalliances with modern popular music, in conjunction with both Rock's Patrick Kendrick and Empyrean's Alex Caruso, fizzled quickly. Their intermittent world music slate remains, however. The Bourbon Street Grill, owned by the same parent company as the Big Easy, has sporadic, live offerings.

Other, smaller places are stepping in -- Raw Sushi sports DJs frequently and books bands occasionally, James Pants spins at the Baby Bar twice monthly, Blue Spark hosts rock, the Peacock Room has Jazz -- but those places aren't stage-centric venues the way even mixed-use businesses like Rock Coffee or the Twilight Room were, and thus don't have the emphasis on live music. The best hope for the District are that the 1600-seat renovated Fox will again soon host brilliant concerts like David Byrne and that the Met's name change will somehow also change its game plan.

Meanwhile, the Big Easy has become known as more of a dance club, hosting a club atmosphere four nights a week and offering live music once or twice weekly. The most positive aspect about Davenport nightlife, then, is that between the Big Easy and Dempsey's, the District is flush with nightclubs -- but live music, not so much.

-by Luke Baumgarten

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne recent summer evening in Spokane, the lobby of the Davenport Hotel was busier than the parking lot at Dick's. While a few straggling hamburger fans stood waiting for Whammies at the edge of downtown, a much fancier set of people reclined in the hotel at the city's center, sipping drinks and eating appetizers. Servers glided among them, smiling serenely and affirming every selection. In contrast, the girl at the window at Dick's barely looked at me when she took my order. I was a visitor to Spokane at the time, but I knew that when the Davenport was outdrawing the local burger joint, something major was changing.

Several years ago, I became one of downtown's residents, living and working within walking distance of everything I needed (except a grocery store and veterinarian). I left when the people who moved into the lofts near mine started driving their hybrid SUVs to the AMC movie theater a few blocks away. It was the first sign I saw of the growth that was about to take over Spokane -- the beginning of the adjustments that have gradually tilted Spokane from Dick's to the Davenport.

After moving, I continued to visit Spokane, living downtown as a temporary resident, enjoying the hotels, restaurants and shops as much as I would in any other city. I watched as the neighborhood changed dramatically. Buildings were torn down. New fronts were given to buildings whose faces had become familiar and forgotten. Restaurants vanished, replaced by new ones with different d & eacute;cor. Fusion cooking arrived, then sushi. Even the crowds milling on the sidewalks changed. After the statewide smoking ban, patrons wanting to light up were pushed outside where anyone could see them from a few blocks away. It finally looked as though something were happening downtown.

Normally, downtown Spokane is a place of business. It's a neighborhood inhabited by thousands of suited suburbanites who, at the end of each day, drive away. In the evenings, Spokanites looking for food, fun and shopping congregate downtown at their destination of choice, partake and depart. They know what they want, and the city has no need to call their attention to what lies around the corner. As a result, those of us who live downtown -- temporarily or permanently -- are left with a neighborhood that can seem forgotten, despite the growth it's undergone.

No objects adorn the sidewalks of downtown Spokane to let visitors know that something -- perhaps something fun -- lies around the corner. On Capitol Hill in Seattle, dance footprints are embedded in the pavement, letting anyone know that they're in a unique neighborhood. Even America's smallest cities hang banners from their streetlamps, touting the town and its landmarks. Spokane's Davenport District, in contrast, flies only a few random banners. Several benches litter the area -- metallic monstrosities that look like hunks of refined scrap -- and nobody sits on them. The few buildings dedicated to the arts -- the Interplayers building, the Lorinda Knight Gallery -- offer almost no indication of the wonders that await within. From the sidewalk nearby, they register as ordinary buildings. It's only when a crowd gathers outside that they begin to look like a part of the arts scene.

Most puzzling to an outsider, however, is how Spokane can be situated so close to such a spectacular river and not devote itself to that resource. A visitor to Spokane could spend days downtown without knowing that the modest buildings shield an enormous park. Even the streets channel people through downtown's natural resources, not into them. I've caught visitors -- proudly wearing their convention badges -- walking through the Washington Street traffic tunnel that runs through Riverfront Park because they couldn't find a more obvious trail.

Ask a resident about the falls and you're likely to hear a classic example of Spokane's out-of-touch modesty: "They're beautiful when they're running." Perhaps it's the outsider in me, but I think that the whole thing -- the river, the falls, the park -- is always beautiful. And Joan Rivers agrees with me. Recently, after visiting town, she blogged about Spokane, declaring that it was a "BEAUTIFUL" city. She said it as though she had discovered the fact. For many visitors, it's not an uncommon sentiment.

Despite the river flowing down from the Rocky Mountains through the center of town, Spokanites still talk about nature as being "near," not "here." Though people travel from as far away as central Montana to attend shows at the INB Center, Spokane residents are prone to scoff at their city's lineup of theater. Discussions of contemporary art will often turn towards Portland or Seattle, despite the examples hanging in the building down the street. And when the Davenport was recently named one of the best luxury hotels in America, some of the city's residents scoffed. (Even in these pages, alas.)

Spokane, despite its growth, is still a modest town, and doesn't tend to acknowledge the best in itself. That busy summer night at the Davenport Hotel, with bag of Dick's in hand, I asked the woman at the concierge desk what was happening downtown. In contrast to the "I don't know" that I eventually pried from the girl at Dick's, the woman at the Davenport responded with enthusiasm. "Oh, a lot of things!" was her response. She was right -- there was a lot happening on an ordinary summer night. But until the residents of Spokane begin to embrace those things, perhaps it will remain a downtown that's enjoyed mostly by visitors (and those of us who decide to move back).

-by Marty Demarest

Golden Harvest: Flour Sacks from the Permanent Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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