As published in the Oct. 7, 2005, issue of The Spokesman-Review.
Leverage private investment for public good
One of the refreshing aspects of living in the Inland Northwest is our humility. Yet, too much civic self-criticism can be maddening and destructive. Often it takes an outsider to convince us that Spokane is, indeed, a great place to live and has the potential to be even greater.
Spokane recently has attracted visits and praise from Carol Coletta, host of NPR's "Smart City," Mayor C. Jack Ellis of Macon, Ga., leaders from Sister Cities International, nationally recognized community developer Dr. Robert Lupton of Atlanta and Dr. James Johnson from the University of North Carolina's Urban Investment Center.
All of these leaders say Spokane is poised to be a world-class - yes, world-class - city. That is, of course, if our civic, business and community leaders can overcome past animosities and rigid ways of thinking to focus on a shared vision for the kind of city we can and should be.
Marshall Chesrown's proposed development for Kendall Yards represents an extraordinary opportunity for Spokane to move toward realizing its potential. This single project will clean up a longtime industrial brownfield, develop 80 acres of prime riverfront land, add millions of dollars of property improvements to the city's tax base and create many new jobs. The Economic Development Council estimates the economic boom to the region over time from this development to exceed $1 billion.
Yet, the new condos, restaurants and specialty stores planned for Kendall Yards will rub right up against the historic West Central neighborhood, where half the residents are renters and many live below the poverty line. To be a world-class city, we need to make sure the ripple effects of Kendall Yards lead to new opportunities rather than eviction notices for the residents of West Central.
It's possible to leverage Chesrown's investment in Kendall Yards to benefit West Central and the rest of the city - if we ask the right questions and operate with the right mindset. One approach would be to green-light the Kendall Yards project as quickly as possible and hope that the rising economic tide will naturally lift the West Central neighborhood out of poverty. Not likely. Without careful, upfront plans for mixed-income residential development in West Central, it's far more likely that current residents will simply be dislocated. The lure of economic gain must not justify completely disrupting the lives of people who least can afford it.
Another approach would be to squeeze Chesrown for every dollar in taxes and impact fees the city can get. That's wrong, too. Developers should be partners rather than adversaries in community development. We must recognize that "profit" is not a four-letter word but an engine for growth and a reward for the tremendous risk taken in these types of real estate ventures.
The city should be looking at ways to economically encourage Chesrown and other developers to invest in West Central. Instead of counting cars and collecting traffic impact fees from Chesrown, the city could offer economic incentives for the developer to build a mixed-income residential project with some service retail jobs in the neighborhood as a catalyst for "gentrification with justice." Or targeted tax abatements could be offered to encourage development of an international district bordering Kendall Yards and West Central, as has been proposed by longtime civic visionary Ed Tsutakawa and Ben Cabildo, executive director of the minority business association AHANA.
We don't need to start from scratch in identifying innovative approaches to leveraging private investment for public good. There are successful models of these kinds of developments in Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, Shreveport, La., Kansas City and even international cities like Mar del Plata, Argentina, and Vancouver, British Columbia. We do need to articulate a set of core values that will shape our decision-making for Kendall Yards and other developments in the region. These values should encourage: diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods; access to opportunities for employment, education and training; safe, affordable housing; incentives for private investment in targeted areas; transparency in the permit- and zoning-approval process; and involvement of all interested private, public and nonprofit groups - including Whitworth's School of Global Commerce & Management and its unique focus on social and civic entrepreneurship - in solving the region's most pressing challenges.
The Chinese character for crisis (weiji) has often been translated to mean a combination of opportunity and danger. Actually the better translation combines danger with the idea of "tipping point," or a time to be particularly on-guard since the moment may never come again. It's time for Spokane to believe in its potential to become a world-class city. Our tipping point is here.
Note: The opinions expressed in works written by Whitworth faculty and staff do not necessarily represent the views of Whitworth University or members of its community. They are, however, symbolic of Whitworth’s commitment as a Christian college to the free exchange of ideas.