History

of the
Spokane Steam Plant

The lit 225-foot twin smokestacks will lead you to a one-of-a-kind Spokane landmark that, for more than 100 years, provided the downtown area with steam heat. But that's only part of the story.

After operating for nearly 70 years as a functional steam plant, it became clear that it was 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 a Spokane design-build firm specializing 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 transformation 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 used 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.

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.