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Riverfront Park Pavilion Design Drawing Debate

Renovations continue at Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane. New structures are in various phases of construction: the Howard Street pedestrian bridge, the new building that will house the Looff Carousel, a building in the area where the new ice skating ribbon will open this fall.

But looming over all of it, almost literally and metaphorically, is the decision about how to renovate the former U.S. Pavilion, with the question: to cover it or not to cover it?

People who lived in Spokane during the 1974 World’s Fair remember the white canvas cover that protected its contents from the elements. Many believe the expectation when voters approved the Riverfront Park bond issue in 2014 was that the remodeled pavilion would have some sort of cover.

But the team working on the pavilion remodel are going with the assumption that the pavilion won’t be covered. This is Keith Comes from NAC Construction, speaking at a community open house in City Hall Tuesday evening.

“The existing cable structure was designed originally as a temporary cover and the structural implications of adding permanent roof load to those cables has some impacts that we can talk about if there are questions. But there are some advantages to avoiding adding permanent load to that cable structure,” Comes said.

Instead of spending time and money studying whether a cover is feasible, supporters of the new design say the city could add other amenities. It could include lights and reflectors to make the structure look stunning at night. Or multiple elevated structures that allow people in the pavilion to look out over the park, downtown and the river.

Some, such as Mickey Brown, one of the co-owners of the new Ridpath apartment project, weren’t buying it.

“If the Park Board votes against covering of the pavilion, you guys are going to be in direct opposition to the citizens of the city of Spokane who voted for a pavilion,” Brown said.

He was supported by City Council President Ben Stuckart.

“It would be like if we went to the voters and said we are going to go for a street levy and do Monroe, Division and Sprague. And then after it passed we came back and said, well, we’re going to do Monroe and Division, but Sprague, no, we don’t believe it," Stuckart said. "I don’t understand how we can do that and expect people to trust us on future issues of levies and bonds.”

Park Board President Chris Wright conceded the point. He said the board didn’t have many answers about details of the project at the time of the vote.

“We made the conscious to try and spend as little money as possible ahead of the bond and try and get the pre-design and the structural stuff figured out after the bond passed,” Wright said.

Fellow Park Board member Ted McGregor says, now that the design team and others have had a chance to look at covers, the options don’t look so good.

“The long and the short of it is we’re being told by our experts it’s going to be 13 months to study it. It’s going to cost at least 500-thousand dollars," McGregor said. "And at the end of that, we might be told you can’t do it. We might be told, ok, you can do it, but it’s going to be fill-in-the-blank million dollars to re-do the cable net structure. Or potentially we might get, it’s great, hang whatever you want on there.”

In his view, it’s a lot of risk for the city.

In the meantime, he hopes the debate over the pavilion cover doesn’t obscure the totality of the park project. He believes the pavilion, even without a lid, can be a place where people will want to go all year long, even if there may not be events scheduled all the time.

The design team is scheduled to give its final plans to the Park Board by September. The board will then decide how to proceed on the pavilion.