Spokane Convention Center - An Historic Gathering Place

March 16, 2015

By Jeff Warner, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, ALSC Architects and Rafael Viñoly-Menendez, AIA, LEED AP, Partner, LMN Architects


20150310 0097Overview

The Spokane Convention Center Completion Project represents the culmination of an ambitious program to create a cohesive campus including exhibit, meeting and ballroom facilities, along with the INB Performing Arts Center. Building on the existing facility’s economic success, the project completes the expansion which began with the opening of the new exhibit halls in 2006, adding function spaces which will allow the center to attract major national events to Spokane.The Spokane Public Facilities District held a Design-Build Competition in early 2013, and the team of Garco+LMN+ALSC was awarded the $41,000,000 project. Spokane-based ALSC Architects was the prime architect and design collaborator. Seattle-based LMN Architects, responsible for the design of the 2006 expansion, led the design of the project. DCI Engineers (Civil and Structural), MW Engineers (MEP), Land Expressions, HLB Lighting and Howe Consulting formed the core consultant team.

Garco Construction led the Design-Build Team, and was responsible for delivering the project on budget and within an incredibly quick schedule--22 months from award to Opening Day (many projects of this scale typically take 18 months for the drawings alone!)

The project adds over 90,000 square feet of new construction, including 20,000-sf of exhibition space, a 12,000-sf ballroom and 10,000-sf of meeting rooms, along with pre-function lobbies and back-of-house support spaces.

The Spokane River and its falls have been a meeting place since long before settlers arrived, when Native Americans gathered there to share the abundant salmon. Later, the river attracted Spokane’s founders who utilized the falls as a source of power. In recent history, Expo ‘74 attracted the world to the river and its falls.

Since 1974 the river has continued to serve as the civic center for Spokane.  Visitors and conventioneers are consistently drawn to the river, its waterfalls and Riverfront Park. In 2012, Spokane County voters approved funding to expand the Convention Center to improve its functionality and to enhance its connection to the river.  The team of Garco Construction, ALSC Architects and LMN Architects were selected through a design build competition to build the project.  This latest expansion of the Spokane Convention Center not only creates a world class convention facility, but also makes the Spokane River an integral part of the visitor experience.

River Connections for Conventions

While providing more exhibit space and better positioned meeting rooms, the expansion improves the Spokane Convention Center’s visual and physical connections to the river and Centennial Trail. Built between the existing facility and the Spokane River, the new addition’s meeting rooms, exhibition hall and pre-function spaces overlook the river through large expanses of glass. Special sliding doors can be opened to make this view a part of the ballroom experience. The second floor “overlook” provides a one-hundred eighty degree view up and down the river, as well as increasing the line-of-sight vertically with a lower floor level and raised ceiling. Artist Steve Adams took advantage of the volume in this space with his sculpture entitled “Memory and Hope”-a testament to the salmon that once thrived in the river. The rooftop terrace, surrounded by a green roof, provides an outdoor venue linked to the river bank by the Riverside Steps. At the river level, outdoor patios under large shade trees provide a peaceful respite between meetings. These patios provide a close up look at the river as well as opportunities to see runners, walkers and bicyclists using the Centennial Trail.

Fitting the new addition between the existing Convention Center and the Spokane River required some very creative structural engineering solutions from DCI Engineers, the civil and structural engineer for the project. The expansion includes sixteen long-span trusses, which had to be assembled on-site. The largest truss which spans the length of the Centennial Ballroom, serves as the exterior façade of the Exhibit Hall above.  Made of 180 tons of steel, 30 feet tall by 225 feet long, this truss is about the length of a Boeing 747. Exposed by the glazed façade it is reminiscent of the historic railroad bridges that used to occupy the site.

River Improvements for the Public

Many of the improvements to the Convention Center and Riverfront Park benefit the entire community, not just those attending meetings and events. To preserve the environmental integrity of the Spokane River, careful erosion control measures were used during construction to prevent contamination. Any ground water or storm water discharged from the site had to be first collected and put through a process called electrocoagulation – where the water is “zapped” with electrical currents to filter out potential contaminants.  The river bank landscape has been restored by using natural riparian plants that are indigenous to the Spokane River. Green lawn areas, which attract geese, have been reduced to minimize potential human and goose conflicts along the trail. An art installation that extends the length of the site discourages visitors from approaching a steep and slippery river bank while telling a story of Spokane’s history. For those who want to get close to the river, designated river overlooks are provided with interpretative signage explaining the history of the river and its importance to the region.

In spite of the size of the addition and limited available land, public access to the river has been maintained. The popular thirty-seven mile long Spokane River Centennial Trail, which follows the river through Spokane, has been improved along the Convention Center. A pathway under the addition links a new vehicle drop off area for easier access to the Centennial Trail. There is also a direct pathway from the second level of parking to the trail and a future boat launch. Building service areas that were once visible from the Centennial Trail in the past are now screened from view while still remaining accessible.

A Draw for Visitors

In recent years, publications like USA Today and Outside Magazine have started to take notice of the tourist appeal of the Spokane River. The new Convention Center builds upon the tradition of gathering by the river for out-of-town visitors, as well as those who live in the Spokane area. The tourist’s river front experience in Spokane is enhanced by the trail improvements, the new green roof terrace and exterior Riverside Steps. It’s an ideal place for weddings, family vacation photos, school field trips or a place to take a rest from nearby shopping.

Additional photos of the project can be seen here:  http://www.alscarchitects.com/portfolio/civic/spokane-convention-center-completion-project/