Patio upgrade set for downtown restaurant

P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in downtown Spokane will upgrade its patio with $300,000 in work, according to permits issued by the city.

The work will include added bar seating in the patio, a new storefront, a redesign of the patio and exterior and interior cosmetic work.

The owner of the restaurant is listed in the permits as Matt Clark, of Santa Ana, California.

The work will be done by Spokane’s Baker Construction. It was designed by James Lencioni, of Chicago-area Aria Group Architects, which has worked with the restaurant chain on 130 locations for nearly 20 years. Millies Engineering Group, of Munster, Indiana, did the structural engineering.

Conversion of Ridpath Hotel is underway downtown

Prominent Spokane developer Ron Wells says the ownership group he leads has obtained a building permit to convert most of the Ridpath Hotel into downtown workforce apartments, after a protracted effort to consolidate ownership of the Spokane landmark and secure financing for the project.The renovation work is valued at $7.7 million, the permit shows.

Wells had earlier estimated the total project cost at upwards of $20 million, including the hotel acquisition costs.

“We’re full speed underway,” Wells says. “My partners and I own everything now. We finally got it back into local control after 10 years. We’re happy. We’re happy. We’re happy.”

The Ridpath Club Apartments LLC project will convert former hotel rooms into 206 apartment units on the second through 11th floors of the 13-story Ridpath Tower, at 515 W. Sprague, and the attached four-story east annex also known as the “Y” building, at the southwest corner of First Avenue and Stevens Street.

Wells’ company, Ron Wells Group LLC, is designing the project, and Baker Construction & Development Inc., of Spokane, is the contractor.

“Baker has a superior job-delivery skill system,” Wells says. “They will have floors 10 and 11 ready to rent about the end of October. Thereafter, another roughly 40 apartments will be ready every two or three weeks, working their way from the top.”

Jon Spilker, Baker Construction’s manager on the Ridpath project, says the project will be completed in about a year.

One of the first project tasks is to remove the 1980s- and ’90s-era hotel furniture from the complex, he says.

“We’re getting existing hotel furniture out of the building,” he says. “A lot of charities are coming down to pick it up.”

Other initial work will include removal and abatement of lead paint and asbestos, Spilker says.

Each hotel room will be remodeled to include a kitchenette, he says, and carpet will be removed and replaced throughout the complex.

The project will include 147 micro and studio apartments with living space ranging from about 250 square feet to 500 square feet. The rest of the apartments will be one-bedroom units with up to 1,000 square feet of living space.

As a requirement of low-income housing tax credits approved by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission to encourage investment in the project, 80 percent of the apartments will be reserved for tenants with annual income at or below 60 percent of the area median income, with the target market being workforce tenants.

For a single person, the maximum income to qualify for such housing is $28,000.

Wells says, however, the apartments won’t be typical low-income housing.

“Tenants have to have a job or verified income,” he says.

Ridpath Club Apartments will set the minimum annual income for at least one resident in each regulated unit at $20,000.

“That’s a large portion of the workforce,” Wells says of the income range anticipated.

Kim Sample, of Spokane-based commercial real estate brokerage and management company NAI Black, will be the supervising manager for the property, Wells says.

“She will be rolling out pricing pretty soon on the first group of apartments that will be finished near the top,” he says.

A restaurant and other first-floor commercial space also is envisioned for the project.

Other amenities shown in preliminary plans for the Ridpath Club Apartments include restoring the marble swimming pool in the annex basement, and a fitness center tenant.

Wells says the 12th and 13th floors are being developed separately into four luxury condominium units, one of which he will own and occupy.

“My current plan is to move into Ridpath,” Wells says. “I had always intended to live in the top floor.”

At least one other condominium unit is reserved, he says.

The Ridpath has been closed since 2008, after its ownership was fragmented among many investors, some of whom represented competing proposals to redevelop the hotel.

Shawn Vestal: Division Street beautification a testament to possibility

For the longest time, “Division Street exit” was code for “Spokane’s ugly front door.”

Well, it ain’t ugly anymore. And the reason it’s not is a testament to the richness of Spokane’s current cultural, political and economic soil – and the fruits borne of collaboration and coincidence among government officials, businesspeople and even the city’s artists.

The Division Street exit and entrance was spiffed up with a city project last year that took some $600,000 and invested it in artwork, landscaping, retaining walls and other amenities. The spiffing-up was intensified with the opening of a little strip mall three months ago – Peppertree Plaza, with a new bagel shop and barber – where before was a big hole in the ground for eight years.

To look at it now is to wonder: Why did we live with the old front door for so long? There are many reasons, and a big one – so far as the plaza goes – was a series of economic difficulties for the property owners, starting with and stemming from the Great Recession. But at the risk of seeming grandiose, I think there is another reason and it has to do with the spirit of the city: We’re becoming a place that doesn’t settle for an ugly front door.

This renewed sense of civic possibility and pride has been palpable in recent years. Neighborhoods are blooming with possibility. You can’t keep up with the good restaurants. Streets and infrastructure work continues apace, and we’re getting ready to make over the city’s central park. Downtown is a potent swirl of activity fueled in significant measure by Walt Worthy’s new Grand Hotel.

Anymore, when I see a “Spokane Doesn’t Suck” bumper sticker I find it irritating, because we’re past merely not sucking.

Which brings us back to the Division Street gateway.

Leaders in this city have known for many years that improving the front door was a possibility, and a relatively cheap one. Bafflingly, we’ve found reasons for years not to do so.

Mayor David Condon mentioned the city’s blighted gateways when he announced his run for mayor.

“I’m not bashful about being proud of our city,” he said this week, “but let’s face it: We were not putting our best face forward at these entrances. … It was just an obvious thing to me.”

Improving those areas had long been a priority for downtown businesses, and Condon’s administration, led by former head of Business and Development Services Jan Quintrall, began pressing to make it happen.

“You come down the hill on I-90 and see this lovely city sitting in a green bowl,” she told the Journal of Business in 2015. “And then you exit off and it’s like, yuck. It’s like having a beautiful house and your front door is made of barbed wire and duct tape.”

I recall driving to Spokane from Moscow, Idaho, in the late 1980s. Getting off the freeway and coming onto Division Street was a depressing affair then – like stepping into a world of cracked, weedy asphalt – and it has remained so for a long time. If anything, it’s been worse in recent years, thanks to the pit at Third Avenue and Division, which sat there pocked by rebar and concrete since 2008, when construction on a new hotel was halted by the economic meltdown.

In 2014, community, business and arts organizers concocted a way to hide the lot behind a fence covered with artwork – an ingenious idea, but not a permanent solution. However, what grew out of that project was a crucial collaboration between the property owners, Rita and John Santillanes, and Baker Construction and Development Co.

The Santillaneses agreed to the art project, and Baker Construction volunteered to build the braces to put up the artwork. The city coordinated obtaining and displaying the art. The Santillaneses, who are hoteliers without retail experience, were struggling to find a viable business use for the lot at the time. Brooke Baker, the director of business development for the construction company, noticed how much street traffic passed that corner and had a suggestion.

“I said, ‘Rita, I don’t know hotels, but I do know retail,’ ” she said.

They had coffee and began discussing the concept that would become Peppertree Plaza. Brooke and Baker Construction President and CEO Barry Baker helped along the way, their company built the plaza, and now the Santillaneses and Bakers are partnering on hotel projects in Nampa, Idaho, and Bend, Oregon.

“It all grew from the art project,” Rita Santillanes said.

Meanwhile, the city was putting in the improvements at five spots getting on and off Division: signs, a statue of a Native American fishing, a retaining wall and other fencing. Baker said her firm consulted with city planners on the design of Peppertree Plaza, to match materials with the infrastructure work. The city’s project was funded in part by changes the Condon administration made in the way the city leases its property around the freeway, and it involved collaboration with both state and federal governments.

One example: Condon said he was forced to negotiate permission to use lilacs in the gateways, because they were not on the federal list of native plants for use in and around freeway projects.

The city work was finished a year ago this month; the plaza businesses opened three months ago. The city will be moving on to further gateways improvements in the coming years.

“This year, it’s Lincoln, and next year … it will be Division from Third Avenue to the river,” Condon said.

If Spokane’s new front door – and the collaborations that made it a reality – are any indication, those will be changes to look forward to.