Business groups call for a smaller, cheaper STA Plaza

by

Mark Richard, Downtown Spokane Partnership president. - STEPHEN SCHLANGE
  • Stephen Schlange
  • Mark Richard, Downtown Spokane Partnership president.
After three months of discussion, the ad-hoc committee of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, Greater Spokane Inc., and Visit Spokane have come to a conclusion regarding their thoughts on the STA Plaza's planned renovations.

Instead of asking for more, the committee calls for less. The suggestions aren't just about preventing loitering, they're about reducing competition with current downtown businesses. 

The overall recommendation outlines a sleeker, stripped-down, cheaper rehab of the Plaza, focused mostly on transit instead of, say, retail, restaurants, or museum space:
The Committee ... recommends eliminating investment in non‐transit‐related elements of the proposal, such as any pre‐built retail space, meeting spaces and other space for lease. The Committee believes that STA can more effectively achieve its outlined objectives by shelling in these spaces, right‐ sizing the access to the second floor and focusing investment, instead, on transit‐related aspects of the proposal. This would serve to optimize bus service while reducing capital and maintenance costs, as well as reducing un‐programmed space which may be misused by non‐transit individuals.
Those conference rooms that some businesses asked for? Turns out the larger business community is against it. 
As there are already some 470,000 square feet of conference space in the downtown area, the Committee questioned the demand for a conference center/meeting area, and discussed what appeared to be a lack of market research to quantify the supply and demand of conference space in downtown. Concern was also expressed over the propriety of additional space, created with public funds, competing with private for profit entities. The Committee felt unanimously that the conference and open space should be removed from the plan, driving significant reductions in the cost of the project.
The committee wants to shrink the interior of the Plaza, walling off any areas that aren't being used in purposeful ways. In particular, it suggests the second floor be almost entirely eliminated from public access. It suggests removing the escalator and not replacing it. And, after much debate, the committee supported some retail on the first floor, but with limitations to prevent the stores from competing with surrounding businesses. 
In the absence of a retailer, the Committee supported “shelling‐in” planned retail space with attractive pad fronts, with the understanding that the focus of any retail should be solely to serve the STA customer and not the surrounding area. Doing so was not deemed as highly probable nor the best use of public funds. While reducing overhead costs, this modest approach to expansion would reduce expectation, as well as competition and risky speculative investment.
It suggests reducing indoor space, and building covered waiting zones outside.
In adopting this strategy,the Committee recognizes that this might reduce non‐transit-related loitering and may compel those in genuine need of shelter to seek it elsewhere. These concerns are a phenomenon of urban socioeconomic struggles throughout the world.
It recommends building secondary bus depots so more customers can transfer at places like Spokane community colleges without needing to come downtown, and using Smart Bus technology and pre-paid loading stations to reduce wait times.

And on one of the most controversial issues, the question of what to do about those who loiter in the Plaza, the committee was cautious:  
The Committee recognizes, as in most cities with a downtown transit facility, that there are social concerns which present themselves in the Plaza and need attention but are outside the scope of this report. Transit is certainly not the cause of these issues, nor is the Plaza the place to resolve them. The Committee members are committed to engaging, in another venue, in what should be a regional discussion about the quantity and quality of shelters and services to care for those in need.
It does, however, lay out a variety of suggestions: Running a courtesy campaign outlining behavioral expectations for Plaza patrons; allowing some parts of the Plaza to be only accessed by those with a student ID or bus pass; establishing a clear pedestrian passageway on the sidewalk; or, allowing the jurisdiction of STA security to expand beyond the Plaza property and into the downtown core. 

And as for those worried the recommendations would spell doom for the STA Plaza's location? The idea that the Plaza could someday be moved is only subtly alluded to:
One such topic is the Committee’s desire to participate with STA in a long‐range planning process on what the future holds for this particular property, should the implementation of these strategies prove unsuccessful, or should modes, technology or customer needs deem the use of the property is in need of reconsideration.
Read the whole thing here: STA Plaza Renovation Report