River Park Square Mall: Blending History with Spokane, WA’s Urban Beat

Introduction to River Park Square Mall

River Park Square, nestled in the heart of Spokane, Washington, stands as a testament to the city’s vibrant commercial and entertainment landscape.

Since its inception in 1974, this shopping mall has become more than just a retail space; it’s a hub for community engagement and a cornerstone of downtown Spokane’s revitalization.

The mall’s strategic location and diverse offerings make it a destination for locals and visitors, contributing significantly to the “things to do in Spokane, WA” list.

A Journey Through Time: From 1974 to Present

The story of River Park Square is one of transformation and resilience. Originally opened in 1974, it marked a new era in Spokane’s retail sector.

However, as the years passed, the mall faced challenges common to urban shopping centers, including fluctuating tenancies and changing consumer preferences. In response, a significant redevelopment initiative was undertaken in 1999.

This project, a blend of public and private investment, was a bold move to reinvigorate the mall and, by extension, downtown Spokane. The redevelopment refreshed the mall’s aesthetics and redefined its role in the city’s urban fabric.

Anchored by Nordstrom, Enriched by Diversity

Today, River Park Square is anchored by Nordstrom, a name synonymous with quality and service in retail. This anchor store and other tenants make the mall a diverse and dynamic shopping destination.

From high-end fashion outlets to tech giants like Apple, the mall caters to different shopping preferences and needs.

Entertainment options are equally varied, with AMC 20 Theatres and IMAX offering cinematic escapes for movie enthusiasts.

The mall’s tenant mix reflects its commitment to providing a comprehensive and enjoyable shopping experience, making it a key player in Spokane’s retail and entertainment sectors.

Historical Development and Redevelopment

The Early Years: Establishing a Retail Foundation

River Park Square’s journey into the heart of Spokane’s retail scene began in 1974, marking a significant milestone in the city’s commercial history.

The initial years were characterized by growth and expansion. In 1978, a pivotal development occurred with the addition of a 55,000-square-foot enclosed second level.

This expansion included the construction of two skywalks, seamlessly connecting the mall to the then-popular JCPenney and Nordstrom stores.

These early developments set the stage for River Park Square to become a central shopping destination in Spokane.

The 1980s and 1990s: A Period of Change and Challenge

The subsequent decades brought both challenges and changes to River Park Square. In February 1984, a new skywalk was added, linking the center to The Bon Marché and expanding the retail space by 20,000 square feet.

However, the 1990s saw significant shifts in the retail landscape. Notably, in 1991, JCPenney closed its doors at the mall and relocated to NorthTown Mall.

This departure was followed by Burlington Coat Factory taking over the space in 1994. The mall also witnessed the closure of Frederick & Nelson, which had acquired The Crescent in 1988, leading to a notable loss in 1992.

River Park Square Spokane
River Park Square, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Revitalization in 1999: A New Era for River Park Square

The most transformative phase of River Park Square began in 1999 with a major redevelopment project.

This $110 million initiative was a collaborative effort using public and private funds to revitalize the mall and downtown Spokane.

The redevelopment saw the construction of a new building for Nordstrom, securing a 20-year lease, and the demolition of the old Nordstrom building for new retail space.

The grand reopening on August 20, 1999, was a landmark event, drawing a crowd of approximately 2,000 people and marking the beginning of a new chapter for the mall.

Architectural and Structural Features

Design and Layout: Crafting a Modern Shopping Experience

River Park Square’s architectural design blends functionality and aesthetic appeal. The mall spans five floors, encompassing a total retail area of 373,000 square feet.

This expansive space is designed to provide a comfortable and engaging shopping experience.

The layout is strategically planned to facilitate easy navigation and accessibility to a diverse range of stores and services, accommodating the needs of a wide customer base.

The Parking Garage: A Blend of Convenience and Innovation

One of the key features of River Park Square is its parking garage, which has a capacity of 1,300 vehicles.

This facility is not just a parking space but a critical component of the mall’s design, offering convenience and ease of access to shoppers.

The garage’s integration into the mall’s structure demonstrates a thoughtful approach to urban retail design, addressing visitors’ practical needs while maintaining the complex’s aesthetic integrity.

Unique Architectural Elements: Skywalks and Atrium

The mall’s architecture is further distinguished by its unique elements, like the skywalks and the atrium.

Initially constructed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the skywalks connect to nearby stores, enhancing the mall’s integration with the surrounding urban landscape.

The atrium, a visually striking feature, adds to the mall’s ambiance, creating an open and inviting atmosphere.

These architectural details enhance the shopping experience and contribute to the mall’s identity as a modern, urban retail destination.

Tenant Evolution and Notable Stores

The Evolution of Tenants Over the Years

River Park Square has seen a dynamic evolution of its tenant mix since its opening in 1974. This evolution reflects the changing trends and consumer preferences over the decades.

The mall initially housed key anchor stores like The Crescent, JCPenney, and Nordstrom, central to its early success.

However, with the shifting retail landscape, the mall adapted by introducing a variety of new stores and brands.

This adaptability has been crucial in maintaining the mall’s relevance and appeal in the competitive retail sector.

Current Major Tenants: A Diverse Mix

As of 2024, River Park Square boasts a diverse range of tenants, catering to various consumer needs and preferences.

Nordstrom continues to be the anchor tenant, a testament to its enduring appeal and quality. The mall also features an AMC 20 Theatres with IMAX, providing a state-of-the-art cinematic experience.

Other notable tenants include tech giant Apple, fashion-forward stores like Banana Republic and Anthropologie, and specialty retailers like the LEGO Store.

This mix of high-end fashion, technology, and entertainment options ensures that River Park Square remains a top shopping destination in Spokane.

Special Mention: Unique Stores and Their Impact

Among the unique stores, the LEGO Store, which opened on November 10, 2023, deserves special mention.

As the first LEGO Store in Eastern Washington, it attracted large crowds, highlighting the mall’s ability to draw exclusive, sought-after retailers.

This addition not only diversified the tenant mix but also added a new dimension to the shopping experience at River Park Square, appealing to both young customers and those young at heart.

Expansion and Adaptation in the 2010s

Strategic Acquisitions and Transformations

The 2010s marked a significant period of expansion and adaptation for River Park Square. In 2015, the mall acquired the Saad building at the corner of Main and Wall Street, replacing it with a 10,000-square-foot Urban Outfitters location.

This acquisition was followed by another strategic move in 2016, purchasing the shuttered Macy’s building across Wall Street.

The former Macy’s building was innovatively converted into luxury apartments with first-floor retail, a residential and commercial use blend that reflects modern urban development trends.

“The Landing”: Enhancing the Dining Experience

In addition to retail expansions, 2015 saw the introduction of “The Landing,” a dining area extension overlooking the Main Street atrium.

This addition not only provided new dining options but also enhanced the overall ambiance of the mall.

“The Landing” serves as a social hub within the mall, where shoppers can relax and enjoy a variety of culinary offerings, further enriching the River Park Square experience.

New Tenants Reflecting Changing Consumer Trends

The addition of new tenants like the Nike Factory Store, occupying a 12,000 square-foot retail portion of the former Macy’s building (now called “The M,” signifies the mall’s responsiveness to evolving consumer trends.

The opening of Flatstick Pub in 2019 added another dimension to the mall’s entertainment offerings.

These new tenants, catering to contemporary tastes and lifestyles, demonstrate River Park Square’s commitment to staying ahead in the retail game and continuously enhancing its appeal to a diverse customer base.

River Park Square in the Urban Context

Revitalizing Downtown Spokane

River Park Square has played a pivotal role in revitalizing downtown Spokane. Its redevelopment in 1999 was not just a transformation of retail space but a significant contribution to the urban renewal of the city center.

The mall’s presence and continuous evolution have been instrumental in attracting locals and tourists to downtown Spokane, thereby boosting the area’s economic and social vibrancy.

With its shopping, dining, and entertainment mix, this urban mall has become a key component in the city’s strategy to rejuvenate its downtown core.

An Urban, Mixed-Use Mall’s Advantage

Unlike traditional suburban malls, River Park Square’s urban, mixed-use nature gives it a unique advantage.

Its location in the heart of Spokane, near other attractions like Riverfront Park and the public library, creates a synergy that enhances its appeal.

The mall’s integrated approach, combining retail with entertainment and dining, caters to a more diverse and urban customer base.

This positioning has helped River Park Square withstand the challenges many suburban malls face, especially in an era of rapidly evolving retail trends.

High-End Stores and Recession Resistance

River Park Square’s tenant mix, which includes high-end stores like Nordstrom and Apple and luxury fashion brands, positions it as a premium shopping destination.

This selection of upscale and luxury retailers differentiates the mall from typical outlet malls and makes its customer base more recession-resistant.

These high-end stores attract a clientele less sensitive to economic downturns, providing the mall with financial stability and resilience.

River Park Square Mall Post Street entrance in Spokane
T85cr1ft19m1n, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Food and Drinks at River Park Square

A Culinary Haven for Shoppers

River Park Square offers an impressive array of food and drink options, making it a culinary haven for shoppers and visitors.

The mall’s choices range from quick bites to sophisticated dining experiences, catering to various tastes and preferences.

This diversity in food options significantly enhances the shopping experience, allowing visitors to relax and refuel during their shopping excursions.

Unique Eateries and Bars

Among the unique dining experiences at River Park Square is Flatstick Pub, known for its craft beers and indoor mini-golf, providing a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar offers a more upscale dining experience, perfect for those looking for a sophisticated meal.

Other notable mentions include the Nordstrom Espresso Bar and Marketplace Cafe, providing shoppers with convenient and quality dining options within the mall.

The Role of Food and Drink in the Shopping Experience

Including diverse food and drink establishments within River Park Square is a strategic move that enhances the mall’s appeal.

By offering more than just retail, the mall becomes a destination where visitors can spend an entire day enjoying various activities.

This integration of dining with shopping and entertainment ensures that River Park Square remains a top choice for those seeking a comprehensive and enjoyable day out in Spokane.

Conclusion

Summarizing River Park Square’s Impact on Spokane

Since its inception, River Park Square has significantly shaped Spokane’s retail and entertainment landscape.

Its journey from a traditional shopping mall to a modern, mixed-use complex mirrors the evolution of urban centers across America.

The mall’s ability to adapt and reinvent itself, particularly evident in the 1999 redevelopment, has not only sustained its relevance but also reinforced its position as a central figure in the revitalization of downtown Spokane.

A Testament to Adaptive Urban Development

The story of River Park Square is a testament to the importance of adaptive urban development.

By continuously evolving to meet changing consumer needs and embracing a mixed-use approach, the mall has set a standard for urban retail spaces.

Its success lies in its ability to offer diverse shopping, dining, and entertainment options while contributing to Spokane’s urban fabric.

Looking Towards a Future of Continued Relevance

As River Park Square looks towards the future, it stands poised to maintain its status as a premier shopping and entertainment destination.

Its ongoing commitment to embracing new trends, attracting a wide range of tenants, and providing a dynamic customer experience ensures that it will remain a key player in Spokane’s urban landscape.

The mall’s resilience and adaptability suggest a bright future, one where it remains an integral part of Spokane’s community and economy.

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