After operating for nearly 70 years as a functional steam plant, it became clear that it was simply no longer economically feasible to supply steam heat throughout downtown Spokane; as a result,Washington Water Power made the tough decision to close the steam plant. The last boiler was shut down in December of 1986.
In the summer of 1996, the Central Steam Plant’s future became nearly as interesting as its history. It began when WWP formed Steam Plant Square, LLC—and assembled a bold visionary team that included Wells and Company, a Spokane design-build firm that specialized in historic renovations. By virtue of creative architectural design and carefully selected demolition, the old plant has now been transformed from a dirty, drab industrial behemoth into a cathedral-bright architectural showcase—no longer mothballed, but alive with people and commerce.
This was no simple undertaking. Detailed plans were painstakingly devised to provide for attractive, functional commercial space while maintaining as much history and equipment as possible—and to complete the work within the rigid guidelines of historic renovation.
Though the structure had been vacant for ten years, tax credits, an innovative partnership, and the city’s historic preservation department helped get the development off the ground. Rather than gut the building, the development team chose to use its unique infrastructure in the renovation, saving as much of the original machinery as possible. The four massive steam boilers have been converted into restaurant seating and a waterfall/ wishing well. The 1,200-ton coal bunker has become high-tech office space suspended from the ceiling. One of the stacks is a visitor attraction, while the other stack houses a conference room in one of the office spaces. Visitors to Steam Plant Square are stepping into a living part of Washington Water Power’s and Spokane’s past.
What began as a renovation of a single WWP landmark grew to include two additional structures: the Seehorn Lang and Courtyard buildings. All three buildings combine to create one contiguous property totaling more than 80,000 square feet of unique office, retail, and dining space. The vision for Steam Plant Square was to meld two worlds: one old, historical, reminiscent; the other new, refreshing, and cutting-edge. Tenants and visitors alike are immersed in the surroundings of the late Industrial Revolution, yet also afforded an array of contemporary conveniences.
In 2001, Steam Plant Square was the first historic building in Spokane to receive the prestigious National Preservation Honor Award. It’s been officially nominated to, and is now listed on, the National, Washington, and Spokane Registers of Historic Places.
The Central Steam Plant building has always been a prominent and readily identifiable Spokane landmark. Its most outstanding features - the characteristic smokestacks and high arched windows – have graced the Spokane skyline since 1916. These proud beacons will remain on the cityscape, preserved in all their historical grandeur. But it’s what’s inside, beneath the stacks, that really counts.
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