Redeveloping Riverfront Park

I’ve had the privilege of growing up in Spokane, and it’s been amazing to watch the city change over the past 40 years. During all that time, Riverfront Park has been a part of my life. The historic 100-acre downtown park includes picturesque scenery of the Spokane River, event spaces, two islands and one of the largest urban waterfalls in the United States. I have fond memories of feeding the “garbage goat,” grabbing my first golden ring on the carousel and even ice skating under the Pavilion with my wife as one of our first dates. Every year the park hosts sporting events like Bloomsday and Hoopfest, concerts, food festivals, cultural gatherings and the annual July 4th fireworks. In 2014, I was privileged to begin assisting with the large-scale redevelopment of Riverfront Park. The opportunity to help transform and revitalize this valuable community resource was one of the most fulfilling projects of my career.

Riverfront Park has a long and complex history. During the first half of the 20th Century Spokane’s riverfront property was used for hydroelectric power generation, manufacturing, railroad operations, laundries and a variety of other industries. Unfortunately, many of these businesses left environmental contamination behind. Many waterfront sites eventually fell quiet as Spokane’s heavy industry waned in the 1970s, but Spokane had new plans for this valuable downtown property. City leaders successfully lobbied to host the World’s Fair in a redeveloped downtown complex. Expo ‘74 was a landmark event for Spokane, but in the rush to redevelop the property environmental contamination was largely ignored. Instead, new buildings and fill were simply placed on top of contaminated soil.

The field of environmental science grew rapidly in the years since Expo ’74—ironically the first environmentally-themed World’s Fair. But Riverfront Park remained largely unchanged, with contaminated soil still under my feet as I and my family enjoyed the park. Then, in 2016, the City of Spokane successfully passed a parks bond to finance a redevelopment effort. Riverfront Park was to be renovated for a new generation while correcting some of the environmental damage of the past. GeoEngineers performed geotechnical, environmental and shoreline habitat management consulting services to help guide the city through this complex remediation and redevelopment project.

Our priority was to investigate the site to determine the extent and type of contamination. We performed a detailed soil analysis of the site using data from direct push borings and test pits to identify chemicals of concern within the footprint of redevelopment projects. Our team then worked with the city and the State of Washington Department of Ecology to develop a cleanup strategy for Riverfront Park. By carefully testing and managing soil designated for export from multiple redevelopment projects, our team saved the city more than $3 million in construction costs by developing a soil management plan for the park and identifying ways to reuse contaminated soil in a controlled manner while protecting guests from environmental exposure. We also worked with multiple agencies to assess shoreline habitat before construction and develop strategies to minimize and mitigate impacts from construction.  

In addition to environmental services, our geotechnical team provided recommendations for several key features of the new park, including the Looff Carrousel, Ice Ribbon, new Howard Street Bridge, art installations, elevated experience in the Pavilion and a new maintenance and operations building on the north bank of the river. By integrating geotechnical and environmental services, GeoEngineers gave the City of Spokane a single, reliable point of contact and guidance for most of their below-ground engineering and environmental needs, and we were able to quickly respond to unanticipated conditions and develop strategies on the fly. We even created a GIS database to map the areas of characterized soil that were left in place throughout the site, giving future development efforts a valuable resource.

Construction on certain project features is expected to wrap up in 2020, but many areas of the park are already open. It has been my pleasure to attend multiple grand openings as each phase of construction is completed. Its really special to see families on the new carrousel, walking across the new bridge or laying on the grass and enjoying a concert in the new Pavilion entertainment venue.

I’m proud of our contributions to this important waterfront redevelopment project for Spokane and our team at GeoEngineers. We help cities, developers and state agencies transform distressed or potentially harmful properties into cultural and economic hubs for the community. The technical side of our work is always challenging, but it’s hard to beat the feeling of building something for your own family, friends and neighbors to use and enjoy. It’s one of the best parts of this job, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to take on next.

We're driven by our values.