"It surprises you," observes Myron Medcalf in a recent story posted on ESPN.com. "You fly over ragged shacks, spruce trees and barren fields on your way into Spokane...

"And then you land and realize you've been tricked. You step outside to walk along the sun-kissed Spokane River during an unseasonably warm afternoon — past Riverfront Park — and then you're enthralled by the glory of the Spokane Falls. ... You stand on a bridge above the bubbling falls and its mist tickles your eyebrows and your fancy. The snow-capped peaks of Mount Spokane wink at you from afar as the cloud cover wallows above.

"Who knew Spokane, Washington, packed this splendor?"

Medcalf parachuted in to write about why, oh why, Mark Few seems content to coach the No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs out in this remote outpost of "ragged shacks," trees that look like "spruce" (actually, they're pine) and all those "barren fields" we like to call farms. Medcalf found his answer: Coach Few loves to fish, and in Spokane it's all about the water.

Still, Medcalf might as well be the quintessential first-time visitor. I always love hearing those impressions, and with the falls running high, it seems Spokane blew him away.

The Spokane River is also the crucial feature to the just-opened expansion to the Spokane Convention Center. The 92,000-square-foot expansion takes the total up to 750,000 square feet and connects the two sides of the existing center. It also better connects the whole facility to the river, with huge windows and new outdoor spaces.

"It brings the outside in, and the inside out," says Cheryl Kilday, CEO of Visit Spokane, which markets the convention center to meeting planners all over the world. "The river's a huge selling point."

At the grand opening Tuesday, the buzz was that the project has finally realized its full, beautiful potential. Already a success — 1.2 million visitors in 2014, with an annual economic impact of $173 million — Kilday says she is slammed with new leads from meeting planners who needed the additional space to even consider Spokane as an option.

In Mayor David Condon's remarks, he gave credit to voters for their ongoing vision. The Spokane Convention Center has been built on a series of votes, each made possible by delivering on previous promises. In the process, the Public Facilities District has earned the public trust, while the community gets more comfortable pooling our resources to build a better city and region. Now we're ready to welcome even bigger events and conventions — not to mention the occasional sportswriter who wants to see what all the fuss is about. ♦

Reclaiming Culture: The Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska Repatriation @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 2
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About The Author

Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Ted S. McGregor, Jr. grew up in Spokane and attended Gonzaga Prep high school and the University of the Washington. While studying for his Master's in journalism at the University of Missouri, he completed a professional project on starting a weekly newspaper in Spokane. In 1993, he turned that project into reality...