SPOKANE, Wash. – More than a decade after the Spokane Transit Authority built a downtown plaza for bus passengers spending almost $20 million, the organization says it is now considering what can be done to make the most of it as riders admit there is a lot of unused space inside the building.
The STA admits the original planning of the building didn’t live up to all of what the organization envisioned. People using the building often say the second floor seems underutilized compared to the first level.
"There could be more stores in it, that's for sure," said Nicole Hilzendeger.
There are shops and STA offices on the second floor but it still leaves plenty of unused space. Often people standing around are all that fills the area.
"It was intentionally designed that way to create space for the community, for concerts, or luncheons, and it didn't pan out,” said Susan Meyer, STA CEO. “Transit centers don't foster that kind of environment, so we have more space than we are currently using."
In addition to so much unused space, passengers add they still have to stand around because they don’t have many seats.
"Well if you look around, there's nowhere to sit,” said Michael Runyan. “There's a few benches here and there, but mostly it's just a big empty space, and I don't think people just want to stand around here."
But Meyer believes too many seats may create another problem so they don’t anticipate filling the building with benches and chairs.
"Oh I think we could actually improve it somewhat but I don't think we will ever fill up the spaces with seating because the purpose is to use the system and move on, not to come and stay."
The STA does want to look at finding someone else to use some of that open space.
"Well as a matter of a fact, we're looking at that right now,” said Meyer. “There's a lot of un-programmed space in The Plaza."
The STA says more stores, office space, or another government agency could move in on the second floor. That step could make the building more efficient but Meyer believes it is still meeting its initial goal.
"The original intention behind The Plaza concept was getting people and buses from being all along every block in Downtown Spokane to be right in front of one facility,” she said.
Several years ago the STA evaluated selling The Plaza but determined it was more cost effective to stay in that location.
"So in 2008 we made the decision to stay and focus on security and cleanliness, and crowd control, and the things you need to do when you're in the middle of a healthy downtown."
Passengers say security is not an issue as they feel safe inside but many are worried about who comes to The Plaza and whether they’re paying customers.
"I've noticed that,” said Zaret Cifuentes. Some people just come here to hang out, meet their friends, or not do what they're supposed to do."
But the STA argues that concern is not unique to its building and that there is not much they can do to try and control who comes in and out of The Plaza.
"That's almost true of any public place and there is no law against loitering,” Meyer said. “So the people who want to stay here because it's warm in the winter and cool in the summer are allowed to do so as long as they're not breaking any rules.”
In the months ahead an analysis to determine what would be best for the unused space will continue and the STA’s board could review those options as early as June.
Meyer stands by the building for now and wants to reassure taxpayers that their money is well spent on The Plaza.
"They help pay for this system,” she said. “It's a safe place and works really well to deliver a service the community wants."