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Spokane May Give Builders a Push to Fix Downtown Parking Craters

11:28 AM EST on November 14, 2017

Downtown Spokane, Washington, has more than 12,600 parking spaces -- a moonscape that consumes about 300 acres of land.

These voids in the built environment spread destinations farther apart, discouraging walking, biking, and transit while generating car traffic. And they're everywhere: Parking-saturated Spokane is just like hundreds of other American downtowns, which Streetsblog highlights in our annual Parking Madness competition.

Now Spokane might do something about it. Two civic leaders -- City Council President Ben Stuckart and Downtown Spokane Partnership parking and policy guru Andrew Rolwes -- want to use tax incentives to fill in the city's parking craters, reports Nicholas Deshais at the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

They're proposing a 10-year property tax exemption for new construction on downtown surface parking lots. A similar policy is credited with spurring development of surface parking lots in Center City Philadelphia.

To enact the tax abatement, Spokane needs permission from the state legislature. Stuckart is reaching out to state lawmakers about enabling legislation and told the Spokesman-Review the bill enjoys bipartisan support. It would also grant permission to Tacoma and Vancouver, two cities in Washington similar in size to Spokane, to enact versions of the policy.

In the very center of Spokane, right at the core of downtown, there are few surface parking lots -- it's mainly garages that would be unaffected by the tax abatement. But Rolwes told Streetsblog the policy could be transformative for the "next tier out from the downtown core."

"We think that the market conditions are right to get those transitioned," he said, "and this could play a part in assisting those property owners."

Forgoing property tax revenue isn't a good idea in stronger real estate markets where incentives to redevelop parking lots might not be necessary. But in Spokane, it could be the push the city needs to nudge development toward downtown, where it's easily and efficiently accommodated, instead of farther out, where it imposes higher public costs in the form of infrastructure and services as well as added traffic.

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