Expert navigation of Spokane real estate, neighborhoods, cities, economic development, local politics, and living.

Riverside Avenue, Spokane

Ingredients That Create the Best Neighborhoods

What Makes the Best Neighborhoods? Like all cities, Spokane has a variety of neighborhoods with varying degrees of magnetism. Spokane’s Best Neighborhoods, like all the Best Neighborhoods, share the same critical elements. This article will identify and define them (in no particular order). An Identifiable Center Individual neighborhoods are like small towns within your city. Like all traditional small towns, there is a center. A common occurrence within larger cities is a classic “Main Street” environment that anchor older neighborhoods. In most cases these little Main Streets developed as separate towns until their mother city grew and enveloped them. In […]

Spokane Port District

Here’s How to Write Alternative Port District Legislation

Greater Spokane, Inc (GSI) intends to press our state legislature in the upcoming session to adopt legislation that will create an alternative port district for Spokane County. For those unaware of what port districts do within Washington State, they are (more or less) the premier economic development entities on a county by county basis. Spokane County does not have a port district, which is a significant disadvantage for us from an economic development perspective. If there’s going to be a push from GSI to forego voter approval of a Spokane County port district, as the law presently mandates, any legislation […]

Spokane Smoke Stacks

The New Economic Mirepoix

Economic development was once all about primary job attraction. Enticing large scale manufacturers or corporate offices is still a worthwhile exercise but those who profess primary job attraction as their number one economic development priority are those that have chosen to forego acknowledgment of larger economic forces at play. Consult any oracle, and they’ll tell you that 21st century economic development hinges on two simple ingredients, data and energy. Both intimately related, both easily broken down into industry sub-sectors, and both, happily, Spokane is flirting with from several different levels. Data and energy are the ingredients that will create the […]

Spokane's Slogan

Shaping Spokane’s Image

Visit Spokane’s Leadership Transition — If you were to mold the image of Spokane to the outside world, what would it look like? If you’re the one responsible for enticing tourists to the metro, different messages will attract different tourists and different tourists contribute differently to our local economy. What, exactly, is Spokane and what kind of money do we think we can attract to it? A fun question to explore. And so it passes that Visit Spokane, those that profess to define what Spokane is to outsiders, is transitioning leadership. Their CEO, Cheryl Kilday, is moving along after about […]

Downtown Spokane Outside Baby Bar 2017

Who’s Moving to Spokane?

For those with shorter attention spans, I’ll start with the fun stuff first. For those with longer attention spans, I’ll tell you how I did it later.   Top 10 metros in the nation moving to Spokane: Seattle-Tacoma, WA Portland, OR San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA Los Angeles, CA Denver, CO San Diego, CA Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA Phoenix, AZ Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX Yakima-Pasco-Richland-Kennewick, WA It appears the going local hypothesis about tech refugees relocating from west coast cities is proving itself correct. Manageable traffic, affordable homes, and plenty of urban amenities is a product that sure sounds nice when migrating from the […]

Downtown Spokane Stadium Location Joe Albi

Build Us a New Stadium Downtown

This post has been updated several times since originally being published on July 7, 2018. What was once a Spokane Public Schools bond question then morphed to a city bond question and now Spokane City Council will place it on the ballot as an advisory vote because, one way or another, Spokane Public Schools has $31 million embedded into their bond request to either upgrade the current stadium on the fringe of town or build a new one downtown. Phew! What an exhausting ride. No matter how it’s paid for or who owns the ballot question, if the goal is to […]

Opportunity Zone Flow Chart

Who’s Leading Spokane’s Opportunity Zone Conversation?

From time to time projects arise that shine a spotlight on Spokane’s dysfunctional economic development environment. The last time the spotlight shone brightly was during Amazon’s HQ2 process. Now it’s shining again because there’s this new cool thing called Opportunity Zones and our leaders in economic development don’t know what they are, much less how to maximize their potential. It strikes me that if local tax dollars are going into an economic development organization then the least they can do is stay on the cutting edge of economic development tools as the feds or the state or local governments might […]

Olympia Capitol Building

Time to Repeal Washington’s ADO Laws

First Boeing, now Amazon? It’s time for the state legislature and the governor to update the Revised Code of Washington into something that enables cities, counties, and even the state to better compete in a 21st century international marketplace. As it stands, Washington State is like the best-looking person at the ball, the one everybody wants to dance with. Whoever it is that wins our attention will tolerate us for awhile until, that is, the sullen day when they come to realize our good looks just ain’t worth the cost. State code stipulates too much when it comes to economic […]

Hillyard Spokane

Metro Spokane’s Economic Development Toolbox

Don’t look now, but there are entities and jurisdictions within our fine metro working some economic development magic by leveraging real tools that attract real investment. It’s amazing how much can get done with market-driven revenue streams and public-driven economic development tools. What follows are metro Spokane’s most significant drivers of economic development.   1) Spokane City Council Whether you like it or not, Spokane City Council sets the tone for the metro. Urban policies start and end with our central city. Our suburbs will do what they will but, make no mistake, Spokane City Council is obligated to its […]

Tedesco kids Paul, Mike, and Kristin circa 1982

What is Gentrification?

I was born in West Central, on Broadway – the heart and soul of Felony Flats – in half a shanty with three older brothers and not much more than a black and white TV to entertain us. About my only memories of the neighborhood are walking with my Dad – a true-blue Sicilian – so he could buy smokes at the nearest corner store. When I was five, we moved to 9th and Sherman, right across the street from the old Martin Luther King Center. By this time, my Italian Stallion father now had five kids but only two […]

Amazon HQ2 Proposals

Comparing Amazon HQ2 Proposals

Below are links to 27 different full-length proposals for Amazon’s HQ2 project. The hard-working reporter Adanya Lustig at MuckRockDaily submitted public information requests to as many HQ2 respondents as they were able to identify. Responses are still coming in, so there will be more to share. The proposals are fascinating, to say the least. SpokanePlanner sifted through all available proposals and discovered the following: The strongest monetary incentives can be found in Boston’s proposal. Moreover, the Common Wealth of Massachusetts is also providing strong incentives should Amazon choose a location within the state. Taken together, there’s a lot of money […]

Spokane Tech

Three Simple Ways to Boost Spokane’s Tech Sector

Depending upon who you talk to, Spokane is either very close to or very far from connecting with the main stream tech economy. No matter your position on the topic, there are several tech-related economic development projects either in the works or simple enough to start that we can actively advance, as follows:   Become the Smartest City Around Here’s where the nay-sayers are wrong, because this ain’t no pipe-dream. Avista, Itron, and Urbanova are all very real innovators within the nascent smart-city sector. Itron just dropped $830 million to purchase a San Jose based smart-city competitor. When Spokane corporations […]

Spokane Economic Development

Insurgents and Disruption

There are 287 start-up accelerators in Silicon Valley. I just spent two days at one of the first of them, Plug and Play, whereby the likes of Google and PayPal were launched. If you’re curious about the leading edge of any given market sector, spend a couple days at Plug and Play watching three-minute start-up presentations. Silicon Valley deploys a unique language to describe innovative market opportunities. Words like insurgents, incumbents, platforms, space, ecosystem, acceleration, disruption – this is the lingo used by innovators and those who venture-fund them. Through the lens of Spokane’s economic development system, the words above […]

Amazon Seattle

GSI’s Two Inches of Secrecy

In recent weeks our friends at Greater Spokane, Inc. (GSI), have submitted a two-inch-thick proposal to Amazon in an effort to entice 50,000 jobs to the metro. In comparison, the Spokane Tribe of Indians also submitted a local proposal, which is 30 pages long. The state of Washington’s proposal is 16 pages long. Since GSI’s proposal was submitted, Spokane’s leadership circles have been pressing GSI to release copies of it to them. A fair and reasonable request considering it’s Spokane’s leadership circles – like the city, the county, and the airport district – that will approve the incentives should Amazon […]

Spokane Works to Attract Amazon HQ2

About Amazon

As you probably already know, Amazon is soliciting proposals for placement of an eight-billion-dollar investment that will create about 50,000 new jobs with an average wage of $100k per year, otherwise known as HQ2. It’s the talk of the nation’s economic development community, including Spokane’s. Those who get paid to conduct economic development within metro Spokane (and even those that don’t) intend to submit at least one proposal to Amazon in an effort to entice them here. Before you say it can’t be done, before you say “we don’t have at least one million people” like the request for proposals […]

Sprague Avenue Spokane Under Construction

How to Help Businesses During Street Construction

When trying to identify the more lucent and rational arguments against the beautification of north Monroe, one that stands out is businesses losing customers during construction – a legitimate concern, for certain, and one Spokane City Council, the Mayor’s office, and bureaucrats at City Hall have opportunities to address. Here are several ideas to provide relief to businesses along north Monroe and any business corridor, for that matter, when street construction occurs. If City Hall makes it a goal that not one business will close as a direct result of construction, it can be done.   Write a Quality Traffic […]

Spokane's Slogan

Spokane’s New Logo and Slogan are Perfect by Nature

Metro Spokane is going through a rebranding exercise led by Visit Spokane, our local tourism promotion organization. Because change is a tough business that stimulates questions and speculation, below are the facts behind why Creative by Nature is perfect for Spokane.   Affordable by Nature Your tax dollars didn’t pay for the rebranding exercise. Tourists and donations did. The total bill for the two-year process is expected to be around $250,000, which (mostly) comes from a bucket of money specifically designated to stimulate metro tourism; a lesser amount of money was donated by our local business community. The same bucket […]

Downtown Spokane March 2017

How to Attract Tech Firms to Spokane

Spokane is on the cusp of tapping into deep pools of investment driven primarily by the tech sector and all its tributaries. Based primarily on our proximity to the coast’s big metro tech hubs (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco), our affordable real estate, and our quality of life, the feeling is Spokane is poised to accept a wave of tech investments as well as all those tech refugees that come with them. Trouble is no one from Spokane’s public sector is actively engaged and working to attract all that money and talent restlessly sitting over on the coast. It’s time […]

A Minneapolis Bike Share Rack

A Bike Share Plan for Spokane

Bike share programs are a new phenomenon for urban America. There’s different models for different cities but the concept is rapidly growing from metro to metro. Heck, Fargo even has one. About 80 U.S. cities have them, big and small, from New York City to Pullman (yep, Pullman). Perhaps it’s time Spokane gets in the game? After all, “To be a world class city, you need to have a bike share program,” said Bill Dossett, executive director of the Twin Cities’ bike share program. I agree with Dossett’s assertion and, I might add, bike share programs are now one of […]

Fellow Coworking Space Spokane

A Few Signs Spokane is Hipper than You Think

We Elected a City Council Person that Grows Pot Everyone around Spokane knows City Councilwoman Karen Stratton grows pot but when Seattle’s hipster indie newspaper published “The Weed Queen of Spokane,” it finally dawned on this totally dense blogger how cool it is to have an elected official in the industry. We’re likely the only city in the nation with a city councilperson that grows marijuana. Seems to me all the hippy coastal cities have a little catching up to do. I think it’s safe to say Spokane is on the cutting edge of the marijuana industry, and we did […]

Football Market Map

Measuring Spokane

Competition to attract growth between American cities is fierce. Economists have written that the game of industry recruitment that cities, counties, and states play is, ultimately, a zero sum game. I’d argue that if you’re on the winning or losing end of attracting investment, arithmetic matters, despite what scholars say. Spokane competes with other cities, as we know, and most of those cities are within our tier. Without getting too wonky, cities are easily categorized by the size and scope of their market reach. For instance, metro Spokane’s 2017 media market rank is 73rd in the nation. For some quick […]

North Monroe Spokane Construction

A Good Waste of Tax Money

The guy who owns Skippers must be very persuasive because Mayor Condon and City Administrator Theresa Sanders are buckling to his irrational will, and it’s going to cost us about $500k. I wonder, how many potholes can we fill for $500k? How many new cops can we hire for $500k? How many property crimes can we investigate for $500k? How many, how many? Condon and Sanders ought to put the guy who owns Skippers on the City’s payroll, because he’s the expert, right? The most troubling part is the guy who owns Skippers is as qualified to make knowledgeable decisions […]

Russell Senate Office Building Hallway

Creating a Competitive Advantage

There are a lot of long and solemn hallways in Washington, DC. How best to navigate them is a learning experience for everyone, particularly elected officials. Annually, our local non-profits and governmental jurisdictions journey to the hallways of DC to lobby for their respective projects or policies. And so it comes to pass a bill that was recently introduced in the Senate’s Finance Committee called the Promise Zone Job Creation Act of 2017. Don’t look now, but Congress is considering creation of a new economic development tool that will give Spokane leverage over the competition. There are only 22 Promise […]

North Monroe Spokane

Popcorn Shrimp

The owner of Skippers on north Monroe is leading a rebellion. The city intends to expend about $7 million in streetscape beautification improvements on the street in front of his business and Gary Jarvis doesn’t want the investment, thank you very much. As The Spokesman Review reported, Jarvis fervently made his case to the public by arguing, “’It’s ill conceived,’ Jarvis said of the ‘road diet’ plan. ‘It’s not going to bring business to the area … It’s just a yuppie thing.’” Thus, we have ourselves three declarative statements against investing $7 million to beautify north Monroe. It’s ill conceived; […]

Streets, Good ‘ol Boys, and Bureaucrats

…in a city without seats, a beach chair can be king. Janette Sadik Khan, from her book Streetfight (2016)   In spring of 2016, the Audubon-Downriver Neighborhood Council invited Spokane’s traffic engineer, Bob Turner, to discuss pedestrian safety on Northwest Boulevard in front of Audubon Park. Members of the neighborhood council requested the city consider traffic calming measures to increase safety for pedestrians who criss-cross Northwest Boulevard getting to and from the park and, not to mention, to Finch Elementary School. Mr. Turner, with years of experience navigating the unique nuances of politely saying no to crowds of people, sure […]

Downtown Spokane Parking Lot

What Economic Development Is, and Who Has the Authority to Do It

Ask your friends what economic development is and you’ll get a variety of different answers. Ask a county commissioner, ask a city council person, ask Vinny down at Dick’s, and you’re going to get different answers to a person. The answer isn’t complicated, however. Economic development is the art of filling gaps in the market. Sometimes there’s a 100% gap and we’re creating a whole new thing, like a couple of medical schools in Spokane’s U-District. Most of the time, the gap is much less, like subsidizing losses at the Spokane Convention Center to create multipliers triggered by a robust […]

Spokane Way-Finding Signage - 2016

A Few Cheap and Easy Ways to Improve Spokane

Urban Tactics — The suggestions that follow don’t require years of planning and consensus building; they don’t require marshaling millions of tax dollars, fundraising, or special assessments; and they don’t require tax increases, public hearings, and recommendations for approval from civic stakeholders. These are everyday improvements that simply require a few rank and file municipal professionals, a small pot of money, and the will to get it done. Details matter. Unto themselves, none of these suggestions are catalytic. Taken together, however, Spokane changes for the better.   Beautify the Ugly Traffic Islands You’ve seen them before. They’re all over town. Dozens […]

Downtown Spokane (5)

Spokane’s Economic Development Environment

Spokane Economic Development — Spokane’s economic development environment is elusive to articulate. Who, in fact, is in charge of it? If a tech firm wants to build their headquarters downtown, who should they talk to first? How about primary jobs, who signs the check providing incentives for those projects? Quality of life, urban infill, beautification, the arts (yeah, that’s economic development, too), what mechanisms fund those initiatives? Saturated with many actors, from the State of Washington all the way down to local non-profits, ask the folks who play in this arena and even they will have a hard time providing […]

Downtown Spokane (4)

The Case to Increase DSP’s Budget by $4 Million Per Year

The Downtown Spokane Partnership (DSP) is a private, non-profit agency that manages a roughly $1.5 million annual budget. The bulk of their annual budget is generated from a special Parking and Business Improvement Area tax (otherwise known as a “business improvement district”).[i] Trouble is our City’s Parking and Business Improvement Area isn’t even in the parking business, but it ought to be. Annual revenue from the City of Spokane’s public parking meters is about $4 million per year (and growing). By transitioning DSP into the public parking business, the City and downtown will have a real, market driven tool to […]

Downtown Spokane - Early 2015

The Tail That Wags the Dog

Spokane’s Economic Development Business — Why does Spokane City Council pay the Downtown Spokane Partnership about $100,000 per year to manage another (roughly) $1,000,000 per year in downtown business assessments? No, seriously, this is a poignant question: Why does the City pay an independent, private, third party entity to manage about $1,000,000 per year in public assessment revenue and, to boot, pay them another $100,000 for the pleasure of doing it? DSP may have fooled us once, but Greater Spokane, Inc. (GSI) has fooled us twice. Why do we pay GSI about $130,000 per year to “speak for the city” […]

White House 2016

Why President Obama Should Come To Spokane

I could use your help motivating President Obama to visit Spokane. In June, 2016, the Spokane Tribe was designated a Promise Zone by the White House. There are 22 Promise Zones in the nation. New Promise Zones have a tradition of hosting a launch event soon after designation. The Spokane Tribe’s launch event is scheduled for December 1st. I asked our Promise Zone officials in Washington, DC, to invite President Obama to the Tribe’s event. In response, they requested that I provide some compelling reasons why he should attend. Below is the email I sent to our DC colleagues that […]

Inside the Pavilion

What Prosperous 21st Century Cities Do

1) Be the Big City — I suspect we all agree, Spokane has opportunities for improvement. Understanding what we are as a product and acknowledging what we can do to improve it is a big step toward doing just that. We’re the big dog, the central city. Others in the metro can be the best suburban products they can be. The City of Spokane, however, has an obligation to be the best urban product it can be. Where some might argue: “We like Spokane just as it is. There’s no reason to grow into Seattle or Portland.” I would argue […]

Macy's Downtown Spokane

A Tax Increment Analysis for the Macy’s Block

How to Finance Incentives to Stimulate Quality Redevelopment — The City of Spokane has $1,795,000 to partner with a developer to improve the derelict Macy’s block into a premier mixed-use project. The mayor’s office just doesn’t know it yet. Otherwise known as incentive money, it can be used to finance eligible public improvements that may happen in or around the Macy’s block as a result of redevelopment. At the end of this post is a link to the raw spreadsheet used to develop the above estimation. I invite you to download it, perhaps make it better. A developer is responsible […]

Downtown Spokane Retail Mix

Of Leakage, Retail Trade Areas, and Losing Downtown Department Stores

The City of Spokane is about to lose its second Costco. The first one closed in the year 2000. Not in the history of downtown development is it a good thing to lose an anchor like Macy’s — alas, downtown’s last true department store. Costco needs more space (as did the first one that abandoned the city in 2000), and Macy’s is downsizing its portfolio. It hardly needs to be said but both closures are significant hits to Spokane’s retail environment, each for its own reasons. What does this all mean? How can Spokane better compete in the retail recruitment […]

Macy's Madonna, Spokane

A Redevelopment Plan For Downtown Macy’s

A 10-Step Plan for the old Macy’s Block — Losing a downtown retail anchor like Macy’s isn’t something cities tend to brag about. But, despite the disappointing loss, many see an opportunity to rehabilitate an old building right in the heart of downtown Spokane. In a future post I intend to explore why Macy’s closed. For now, however, we need to get to work. If leaders in Spokane City Hall are at all interested in leveraging Macy’s closure into an economic development, smart growth, and quality of life opportunity (as I hope they are), there is no time to waste. […]

GSI Todd Mielke, the protector of the realm

The Best Magic Act in Town

GSI And The Art Of Illusion — I’m 37. I spent the first 18 years of my life trying to get out of Spokane and the next 18 trying to get back in. This town has a tendency to do that to people. Now, when I look around, I see a large group of us, back home, all hungry for change, and eager to transform Spokane into a 21st century city. But you don’t need to be born and raised to see Spokane’s largely squandered potential. Newcomers can see it, too, and they tend to be all the more confused […]

Spokane City Hall

GSI Ignores Call for Divorce

GSI’s Puffy Talking Points On October 23 Council President Ben Stuckart delivered a letter to Christine Johnson, PhD, President of Spokane Community Colleges and Chairwoman of Greater Spokane, Inc. In it, Stuckart calls for an “internal conversation starter” whereby he questions inherent conflicts that exist between attempting to serve membership and attempting to serve the public. As Stuckart points out in his letter, I have seen GSI oppose massive multi-million dollar projects to protect the interests of current members. This is the opposite of what an economic development organization would and should do. In early 2007, the Spokane Area Economic […]

Spokane Zoning Code

How to Rewrite Spokane’s Zoning Code

…and do it for cheap, and within one year. Ask any developer in town and they’ll tell you Spokane’s zoning code is a mess. Ask any property owner trying to put up a fence, or a shed, or re-landscape their property, and they’ll tell you that Spokane’s zoning code is a mess. Ask the Spokane Home Builders’ Association, and they’ll agree. Ask Envision Spokane, and they’ll agree. Ask any neighborhood council member. Ask any city councilmember. Ask the mayor. Ask city employees. Ask the guy who plays electronic violin in front of Riverpark Square. They’ll all tell you the same […]

GSI Membership

10 Reasons to Drop Your GSI Membership

There’s a few loose threads on the security blanket that covers Spokane’s economic development environment. Some people have noticed it before, and perhaps even have come so close as to rub the tip of their finger against one. Everybody sees it, the loose threads, and yet getting out from under the warmth and comfort of the blanket is too much of a risk despite all the loose ends. What those loose threads need is someone just reckless enough to take a tug. You know as well as I do, we both want to see what happens when it unravels. Like […]

Spokane Economic Development

Grading Spokane’s Economic Development Performance

Economic development theories evolve nearly as quickly as the market. Local economic development organizations, therefore, also must evolve in an effort to consistently be at the forefront of economic development practice. Spokane’s performance toward this end has room for improvement. Many eras within the field have been largely discredited and replaced with healthier alternatives. Metro Spokane, however, still clings to several outdated models that cities of the future have long since dismissed. Below are all the broader economic development models tested and practiced by cities and counties throughout the nation. Of course, it’s difficult to capture them all, particularly smaller […]

Spokane Incentives

The Incentives GSI Can’t Give You

(Hint: It’s All of Them) — Throughout the early 2000s up until 2008, a Danish corporation called Vestas was shopping for cities to build a $250 million wind turbine manufacturing facility. With employment of roughly 500 great paying primary jobs and, not to mention, the potential of one lucky community to establish a strong base in the alternative energy sector, practically the entire nation was vying for the investment. As coincidence would have it, Greater Spokane, Inc., was in the mix. With their American headquarters firmly established in Portland, Oregon, the brass at Vestas were but a hop, skip, and […]

Spokane's Best Neighborhoods

9 Ways to Improve Spokane’s Economic Health

Nine Simple Economic Development Strategies to Improve Spokane — Below is a simple economic development plan for the City of Spokane and, indeed, for the metro. A few items on the list may perhaps be challenging to implement. Nonetheless, it’s nothing a little verve and creativity can’t solve.   1: Dispel with the notion that fundraising, grant writing, and advocating for special appropriations is economic development. This one generally speaks for itself. I know I’ve said this in a previous posting, but fundraising, grant writing, and generally asking other people for money is not an economic development strategy; to the contrary, it’s […]

The Davenport Grand Hotel

How to Negotiate a Downtown Hotel Deal

Lessons Learned from the Worthy Transaction — Mayor Condon is in a pickle. Like baseball, there are numerous unwritten rules to the economic development game that only experience within the realm can help one follow. Don’t ask me how many there are because no one really has an answer. Over time, as one moves from rookie to journeyman and, eventually, to veteran; all of these unspoken rules become ingrained in your psyche, a sixth-sense that separates the veterans from the rookies. A healthy handful of unspoken rules Mayor Condon just learned the hard way. There’s been a lot of press […]