Candidates Debate Business, Safety Issues At Downtown Forum

Oct 2, 2019

Downtown Spokane Partnership director Mark Richard talks to the audience before a forum with city council candidates.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Candidates for Spokane city office are in high demand these days as civic groups, reporters and others flood them with invitations for forums and interviews.

Tonight [Wednesday], some or all of the candidates will appear at a forum at Gonzaga University, where the topic is climate change.

Tuesday at the Civic Theater, the subject was business and downtown Spokane. The Downtown Spokane Partnership sponsored that two-hour event.

All 10 candidates for mayor and council were there. We're focusing on the responses from candidates for city council seats in this story.

Downtown Spokane Partnership executive director Mark Richard opened his organization’s event this way. “This is the first time the Downtown Spokane Partnership has ever hosted a candidate forum in the 25 years of our existence. We think it’s that important.”

Many of the questions focused, naturally, on downtown. Tony Kiepe told the story about his first visit to Spokane 20 years ago.

“I called my wife back in Memphis, Tennessee. ‘You won’t believe this city. You feel safe. I’m staying in the Hotel Lusso; what a wonderful hotel. Walking downtown, walking to the river and I felt safe. There’s no traffic, dear. There’s no traffic here in Spokane.’ A few things have changed over the past 20 years. I no longer feel safe," Kiepe said.

Candidates debated safety measures, for example, whether the police department should move its downtown precinct back into the center of the core from the intermodal station on the periphery. Andy Rathbun argued crime and homelessness have merchants reconsidering where they’re doing business.

“I’m getting, from the doors, that people are avoiding downtown and it’s hurting our businesses. Businesses are losing patrons. We’re in jeopardy of losing conventions. I’ve been told that one-in-five businesses are looking at relocating out of the downtown. Businesses are the lifeblood of our city," Rathbun said.

Candidates shared their views about how to balance the needs of people who are homeless with the rights of downtown business owners.

Karen Stratton criticized the Condon administration for inadequate planning for sheltering people during the winter months. But she said she understands the concerns of merchants.

“No business, whether it’s downtown or in any of my neighborhoods, deserves to have people sleeping in their hallways, sleeping in their alleys or making a mess," Stratton said. "That’s all I’ve heard for two years during the cold months. I support sit-and-lie. I support the ‘no camping’ ordinance.”

The forum wasn’t just about homelessness. Other questions went to business concerns such as parking and the city’s role in providing it. Most candidates agreed there are too many surface parking lots and a need for more options.

“One of the first things I would like to do is to see us implement a free 15-minute rule on our meters, much like Olympia and many other cities do. I think that’s just good customer service and a good thing for us to do,” said candidate Michael Cathcart. He also argued for incentives to encourage developers to build covered parking.

Candidates also talked about incentives for creating more downtown living options. Breean Beggs says some of the currently available tools are working well.

“We have used this tool called the multi-family tax exemption tool and we have approved hundreds of new housing units downtown," Beggs said. "You look at the M, you look at the Ridpath. Those are market rate and there are more and more projects coming through, both in the downtown and throughout the surrounding areas of the downtown.”

Several candidates argued that more housing will help to solve the safety issue, a good supplement to increased police presence downtown.