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'It is the next neighborhood to pop': Spokane leaders set sights on investment in East Central

The city council passed a long-awaited resolution formalizing a framework to revitalize the diverse but historically neglected neighborhood.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane City Council declared its intention to invest in the East 5th Avenue area via a resolution Monday night, the latest step in an attempt to revitalize the long-neglected East Central neighborhood.

East Central began as a promising neighborhood early in Spokane's history, but a series of events caused lasting damage. First, the decline of certain industries. Then, redlining and housing segregation.

"They made it where, mainly... Black folks didn't have no other place they could stay but the East Central neighborhood," said Michael Brown, who owns Fresh Soul restaurant on 5th Avenue and runs the Spokane Eastside Reunion Association. "The other areas were priced out for us."

Then, the I-90 freeway construction cut right through the heart of the neighborhood, destroying hundreds of homes and much of Liberty Park.

"And then as the community just started to age, and there became this disinvestment in East Central, along with this label of low-income, crime-ridden," said Spokane City Council Member Betsy Wilkerson.

Neighbors say it's now long past time to capitalize on the community's promise and start investing.

"We're the forgotten neighborhood," Brown said.

"If you walk through there... there's like a new energy in East Central," Wilkerson said. "And for the first time in a long time, it's getting a little love."

A resolution five years in the making was passed unanimously by city council on Monday night, outlining priorities to make revitalization happen. Those include recapturing and highlighting the neighborhood's sense of identity.

"We really want an identifier for the neighborhood [that says] 'welcome to East 5th,'" Wilkerson said.

The resolution also sets the goal of creating a thriving business corridor through the kinds of streetscape improvements other Spokane neighborhoods have seen.

"Like on this side we've got a brand new sidewalk. I'd like to see that on both sides of the street," Brown said.  "We want to be just like the Perry District, Kendall Yards."

"There is no official bike route in East Central," Wilkerson said. "We want to make it walkable, accessible for children and seniors."

Another goal is making it easier to build affordable housing, and to help current homeowners make improvements, without causing the kinds of gentrification that might price longtime residents out of the area.

The resolution is a start, but everyone agrees that real action and real money need to follow.

"I've been seeing people doing a lot of this," said Brown, making a talking gesture with his hand. "And that's what I'm tired of. I want to start seeing some action put behind the talk."

"The next step is to get dedicated resources. So this gives us the ground work," Wilkerson said. "Nothing happens overnight in government. It can be slow going. But we are there."

"It is the next neighborhood to pop," she said.