04 June 2023

River Park Square, Spokane, WA

An extant asset

Although I had been living in the same state as Spokane for more than a decade, I had never visited the city on the other side of the Cascades.  And I have to say that I really loved what I saw.  As we passed the center of the city on our approach to Spokane International, beneath me was a green landscape dotted with hills, mountains and ravines.  It wasn’t what I expected but was very pleasantly surprised.

The heart of Spokane is something to behold.  I walked the city streets fairly early on a Sunday morning and the pavements were empty.  But I kept hearing what I thought was traffic approaching where there was none.  Then, once I got to the Monroe Street Bridge, I could see what was causing it- the impressively large Spokane lower falls dropped in the shadow of downtown’s high-rises.  The city was full of surprises.

1 to 4- Scenes of downtown Spokane.  5 & 6- Riverfront Park and the Spokane Falls.

Another surprise is located just off of the falls and the lovely Riverfront Park. Located amongst those picturesque locations is River Park Square which, in this day, is a complete anomaly.  It is a downtown, vertical shopping mall smack dab in the heart of a medium sized city.  Sure, I’ve seen quite a few of these.  But contrasting with the struggling urban retail centers like Pacific Place or City Centre located in much larger cities, this place was vibrant, alive and full of patrons on the Saturday evening of my visit.

River Park Square's main entrance and exterior along Main Avenue.

From the moment that the five-level main entrance atrium with its crisscrossing escalators comes into view, I knew I wanted to see more.  Though only the first three levels are home to actual retail, the offerings are pretty impressive.  Anchored by the only Nordstrom in Washington located east of the Cascades, it is joined by high end stores like Anthropologie, Pottery Barn and the Apple Store.  The fourth level is home to an AMC cineplex, which still seemed to be packing them in.

Inside the main entrance atrium.

Just across the street and connected by skywalks are more shops located at the West 809 Building and at the Crescent Court.  All of it all comes together to create an enviable collection of downtown retail rarely seen in a city of this size.

River Park Square lease plan ca. 2016.  See the full PDF version here.

River Park Square originally opened in 1974.  Four years later, the mall was expanded to 800,000 square feet and skywalks were built to connect the adjoining Nordstrom, JCPenney and department store The Crescent to the facility.  In the 80s, another skywalk was added to connect The Bon Marché in addition to adding another 20,000 square feet of leasable area.

Spokane's Nordstrom

But by the early 90s, River Park Square was in decline.  JCPenney had left for nearby NorthTown Mall and The Crescent, which by then had been purchased by Seattle-based Frederick and Nelson, also vacated their space.  In an effort to reverse the trend, a new Nordstrom building was raised and the mall entirely renovated and expanded.  In 1999, the new River Park Square was opened.

Inside on the main corridor.

In the more than two decades since its rebirth, the mall has seen The Bon Marché become a Macy’s before completely closing during the 2010s.  Though that name is gone, additional businesses such as a Nike Factory Store and an Urban Outfitters have moved in.

1 to 4- Crescent Court, former home of defunct retailer The Crescent.  5 & 6- Inside the main entrance.

Besides traditional retail, the mall is also connected to non-retail facilities such Spokane’s downtown library branch and City Hall, all of which has helped River Park Square remain a viable retail destination even when many of its peers are floundering in today’s retail environment.

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