As their neighbors to the west discuss ways to revitalize a less-than-thriving thoroughfare, leaders in Liberty Lake have the wheels in motion on a central business district in which retail vitality and pedestrian priorities would be given equal footing.
Doug Smith, Liberty Lake community development director, provided an update on the idea at the June 28 City Council meeting, beginning with a brief history of the CBD. The recommendation of a civic hub -- described by Smith as “the primary government, social and retail center of the city” -- was originally brought up in the formation of the city’s comprehensive plan, a document outlining the vision for the community over the next 20 years.
After the comprehensive plan was approved by City Council in September 2003, the municipal development code – establishing more detailed standards that would guide the expansion of Liberty Lake – was drafted, adjusted and passed roughly two years later. The CBD was again part of the conversation, focusing on alternative transportation, pedestrian amenities and a mix of retail and residential uses – many of the tenants addressed in the city of Spokane Valley’s now scrapped Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan.
“The goal was to maintain design standards and advance a community identity consistent with current appearances,” Smith said.
The city eventually hired the local architectural firm of Bernardo-Wills to provide some preliminary diagrams of the CBD, although the proposal stalled until 2009 when talks involving the Transportation Improvement Program brought up a number of the CBD initiatives once more. As Smith put it, Liberty Lake leadership was still striving for a setting that would provide more than “just moving cars through the center of the city.”
The transportation component of the CBD would involve a narrower version of Liberty Lake Road, the city’s main retail corridor, wider sidewalks, improved streetscapes and commercial buildings closer to the road. A relatively new Walgreen’s site near the Harvard Road off-ramp and Liberty Lake Road – where well-manicured landscaping takes precedence over an asphalt parking surface – is one example of adherence to the new design standards, Smith said.
Liberty Lake officials continue to throw their two cents into the discussion over proposed improvements to Interstate 90 between Barker and Harvard roads. Smith noted in his presentation last month that prioritizing the CBD would be critical in the city’s push to parcel out traffic from the Harvard Road exit leading to Liberty Lake Road. Smith has brought up the possibility of another exit further west that would benefit the developing retail district along Country Vista Road.
The Washington State Department of Transportation has come up with three options for the exit, including the replacement of the Harvard Road Bridge with a four-lane structure while improving ramp connections to I-90. Another scenario involves a diverging diamond with a collector road connecting eastbound freeway traffic to Liberty Lake Road. The final option features a diamond interchange with eastbound and westbound distributors connecting to Liberty Lake and Harvard roads.
WSDOT has estimated that the project – which would also include the addition of one lane in both directions from Barker to Harvard, resurfacing with Portland Cement concrete, improvements to the Barker interchange and other upgrades – will run around $85 million. Liberty Lake has set aside approximately $1.5 million from a pair of sales and property tax implements – Local Infrastructure Financing Tool and Tax Increment Financing – for potential I-90 renovations. The funds have been generated from the developing River District in the Northwest section of Liberty Lake.
Smith made several references to Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene during his CBD overview, noting that while the street was “a little more historical” it still featured elements that Liberty Lake is aspiring to such as “wider sidewalks where people can linger or browse in shops” and residential spaces situated above storefronts.
Council Member Judi Owens brought up another example of a nourishing retail area, pointing to Wenatchee’s textured downtown district.
“The trees give shade and you just feel comfortable walking down the street,” Owens said.
Mayor Wendy Van Orman echoed comments from Smith and Owens, emphasizing Liberty Lake’s goal of creating a “beautiful, aesthetic corridor” that would be safe and enriching for pedestrians.
“We’re trying to think of this holistically,” Smith said. “This is about urban renewal and economic development.”