Document 59: Spokane Business District

Spokane City Plan Commission, Land Use, City Plan Series I, Report No. 4 (Spokane: City Plan Commission, 1954), 33-36.

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As more large community shopping centers are built, the advantages they afford can be expected to attract some of the present business from the Central Business District. From this viewpoint modern shopping centers might be looked upon as a threat to Central Business District values. While the threat is real, the cause is not solely the attraction of the outlying shopping center. The inadequacies of the present Central Business Districts in most every city of America have much to do with any loss of business being experienced or that may be experienced in the future.

Principal inadequacies of most Central Business Districts are these: (1) outmoded street pattern, (2) inadequate parking facilities, (3) outmoded buildings, (4) irregular, outmoded building sites, (5) uncoordinated architecture, (6) pressure of unnecessary land uses (over 10 000 people permanently reside in Spokane's Central Business District).

Spokane's Central Business District is receiving millions of dollars in new construction manifesting the investors intent to keep their building facilities as up-to-date as possible. The discouraging thought is this new construction of individual buildings cannot alone solve the Central Business District problems.

The complex nature of the Central Business District problem was aptly discussed by a panel of nation-wide experts representing all groups involved in Central Business District problems. In the panel's summary of findings (reported in February '53 Architectural Forum) is the following statement of the problem: “One reason the problem is so difficult is that it involves so many component problems which must all be solved together . . . Any attempt to cure traffic congestion “in the street” would treat the symptoms rather than the disease. No solution will prove lasting unless zoning sets reasonable limits to central city density. No solution should forget the traffic relief that would result from the constructive decentralization of certain types of activity. . . . All these manifold problems must be met separately . . . But all of them are so interrelated that they must also be solved together.”

A plan for the whole is needed which will assure a stable value for new construction and for investments already made. While the remedy may require tremendous effort, a bright future for the Central Business District is worth insuring. Basic studies are now underway to help district efforts toward realizing a practical plan of improvements. As these studies enter the planning stage the business man and property owner will be called upon to help select a practical course of action aimed at solving the problems facing the Central Business District. Spokane cannot afford to permit traffic congestion and inconvenience to cause a reduction in business transactions and the resulting loss of property values in the Central Business District.


Four transcontinental and three local railroads serving the Inland Empire converge on Spokane giving the City a transport advantage valuable to its economy. Spokane could not live without the railroads.

Nevertheless, because of the nature of their activities and the physical barriers they present, railroads pose a land use problem. A railroad track and its rail traffic are not suitable neighbors to a home. The divide residential areas physically and psychologically and often are detrimental to residential values.

Then there is the problem of rail facilities in the heart of the City. A passenger terminal is essential to the Central Business District, but several terminals only complicate the Central Business District problems. Secondly, rail yards absorb much valuable land in a use not essential to the Central Business District functions. Rail yards simply cannot produce the value per square foot of land that principal commercial land uses do.

As the City grows, land in the Central Business District will be even more at a premium. In the not too distant future Spokane and the railroads will of necessity be obliged to review their rail facilities to determine what future improvements are practical and economically feasible. The facts suggest the need for a joint Railroad–City Plan Commission study to determine the best railroad transportation program for the future development of Spokane and its railroad activity.

Railroads are taking expensive measures to curb noise and smoke and to prevent accidents. The cooperation of the railroads will continue to be needed to further improve Spokane and its railroad facilities. The benefits can be mutual.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest