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 neighborhoods, not our metro-neighbors who prefer more traffic lanes and less transit. The City of Spokane and its urban policies are the heartbeat of the metro whether outside suburbanites want to admit it or not. Everyone depends upon the vibrancy of their central city, and central city vibrancy depends on walkable, diverse, and creative urban initiatives.
2) Spokane and Kalispel Tribes
No surprise finding our local tribes toward the top of the list. There are 574 federally recognized Native American tribes within the United States – all self-governing, self-taxing, and self-regulating. There are 50 states with the same privileges. And one republic. Thus, there are 624 sovereigns within the United States. If you’re looking to do business with any one of them, it’s much simpler to gain a majority vote of any given tribal council than a state legislature or, even harder, Congress. Want to do some big business? Do it with your local tribe because they’re the best economic development entity around.
3) Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Authority
Don’t look now but our baby sister is all grown up. Since roughly 2000, Coeur d’Alene has actively leveraged its municipal subdivision to stimulate beautification and private investment. Riverpoint, McEuen Park, Midtown, downtown – name a marque project in Coeur d’Alene and it’s likely their urban renewal authority is behind it. Without the activity of Coeur d’Alene’s urban renewal authority, otherwise known as Ignite Cd’A, the Spokane metro is a lesser place. It’s also worth noting that, although in a different state with different laws, Ignite Cd’A is our best regional model for how to leverage tax increment financing to achieve significant results. The underlying best practices, no matter the state law, are universal.
4) Spokane Public Facilities District
The Public Facilities District controls some of Spokane’s most significant assets – the Convention Center, Opera House, and Arena. They are also significant property owners of some of Spokane’s most valuable real estate. They most recently leveraged their assets to help stimulate construction of the Davenport Grand Hotel. Into the future, partnering with the public or private sector to develop all those surface parking lots they own, including construction of parking garages, would be a steroid shot for downtown and the North Bank.
5) Spokane Transit Authority
The $86 million Central City Line is on the cusp of construction. All that’s left to do is stimulate transit-oriented developments along the route. The City of Spokane would do well greasing the appropriate wheels to ensure the economic potential of the Central City Line is maximized.
6) Spokane Parks Department
Nothing like a cool $65 million courtesy of the taxpayers to get downtown’s motor running. Although there is room to criticize the Parks Department handling of Riverfront Park capital projects, I’ll take a bungled $65 million in Riverfront Park improvements any day over no improvements at all.
7) Visit Spokane
Visit Spokane shapes the image of the metro and they’re good at it. Amongst the holy trinity of Visit Spokane, Greater Spokane, Inc., and the Downtown Spokane Partnership – our three non-profit membership-driven booster organizations – it’s Visit Spokane that is guided most by the compass of best practices.
8) Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce
It takes a lot of magic to polish the image of Spokane Valley into something sparkly. Yet the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce has managed to saw a grown woman in half before our very eyes. The Valley Chamber has so much momentum these days that they’re officially vying for title of the metro’s leading chamber. For their next trick, I recommend advocating for policies that help build a distinguishable, walkable city.
9) West Plains Public Development Authority
Between the West Plains PDA and the University District PDA (below), there is great potential to leverage both tools to the hilt. The ingredients are in place for both to become as active in Spokane’s real estate development game as Ignite Cd’A is for Coeur d’Alene. Direct cause and affect relationships with TIF-creating developers is a recipe for success. Once they crack the code and close their first deals, watch out because the sky’s the limit.
9a) University District Public Development Authority
See above. Spend TIF money to make TIF money. It’s a simple recipe.
11) Downtown Spokane Partnership
A dependable annual revenue stream of market-driven tax assessments is a good foundation, but it’s control of the public parking system that will build the house. Maturation into a real-deal economic development tool includes transitioning into a PDA that manages both the business improvement district’s assessments and downtown’s public parking system.
12) Greater Spokane, Inc
GSI is skilled at promoting itself and legislative advocacy (the advocacy part they are particularly good at). However, because GSI has no economic development tools to deploy, they’ll have to pull a rabbit out of their hat to become a bonafied economic development tool. Trouble is what they have is granted to them by the grace of others, not the least of which being the hat and the rabbit.
13) Hillyard Public Development Authority
It was a big deal a few years back when the Northeast Public Development Authority was formed. These days, however, it’s an old dusty hammer desperately in search of a nail. Just so happens there is one poised for hammering that will create a reliable revenue stream for the PDA and provide that all elusive sense of purpose, otherwise known as the Beacon Hill development. Stimulating TIF-driven activity on Beacon Hill is in Hillyard PDA’s wheelhouse. The first deal is always the hardest but Beacon Hill is a gift from the TIF gods. Take it.
14) Post Falls Urban Renewal Authority
Post Falls was once a proud old timber community on the river between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene with a great historic downtown and river properties that were the best kept secret in the metro. After a series of blunders, not the least of which being demolishing nearly the whole of old downtown several years back, Post Falls is now the fastest growing suburb in the metro yet hardly a semblance of local history remains. But there is hope for Post Falls yet. Old town Post Falls is neglected but still alive like an orphan with an empty bowl seeking porridge. Good news is Post Falls Urban Renewal is working hard to dump a spoonful of gruel into it. The winning recipe is walkability and paying homage to Post Falls’ history. If Post Falls Urban Renewal can give the city a sense of place again, discerning palates will have far less to criticize and the metro’s most pathetic orphan may yet grow into a man.