Lights dim at the Blue Spark

SPOKANE, Wash. - Blue Spark closing

After a 14-year run in downtown Spokane, the Blue Spark is closing its doors.

"Thank you Spokane for a great run!!! It's been fun... It's sad to say but yes the Blue Spark is closing its doors for good!!" the business reported on Twitter Monday.

The bar cited the Ridpath Hotel as one of the reasons it was closing its doors, with problems with street kids congregating and homeless people sleeping around the hotel.

Last year, the Blue Spark was very open and willing to talk about the problems they said they faced with rowdy street kids that frequent the area.

"If you don't have people wanting to come to your bar because they are afraid they are going to get jumped, that's a loss in business," Justin Robbins said in June 2012.

However on Tuesday, repeated attempts to talk with the owners of the Blue Spark about their closure were unsuccessful.

Downtown business owners have complained about messes left behind by people loitering around the hotel. A quick walkaround Tuesday morning found everything from garbage to used condoms and feces around the building.

While the Blue Spark was unwilling to talk about their closure, other business owners in the area near the Ridpath were willing to talk Tuesday about the vacant hotel and the problems that radiate from it, including a loss in revenue as customers are driven away by indigent people gathering around the hotel.

"Over the last few years we've seen some real problems," Craig Larson of Jimmyz Red Room Lounge said.

Last summer a bouncer at the bar said he was jumped by 20 teens and hospitalized.

Craig Larson, who has had business in the same downtown location for 21 years, said violence like that incident has driven away business.

"It's been a real struggle with us and there's no question part of our down turn has been due to this problem," Larson said.

But it's been difficult dealing with the empty hotel and those that loiter around the sides of it.

"You look at the size of the Ridpath, that vacant property, because much more difficult to control quality of life issues," Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub said.

Straub said that so far this year there have been 50 calls for service at the Ridpath. In comparison there were 23 from the Blue Spark, which closed down Sunday after 14 years in business.

The bar blames part of its closure on the activity of the street kids downtown, but Chief Straub said crime downtown has dropped 10.5-percent this year compared to the same time last year.

"I would have to say that our statistics pretty much beg to differ with that claim," he said.

As the dilapidated Ridpath continues to sit empty police have beefed up their downtown presence. They now have 10 officers patrolling the area and just recently opened up a downtown precinct.

"From our perspective we have been very aggressive in terms of responding to that area," Straub said.

Larson agrees that things have slowly improved but his block is a far cry from being a bustling, vibrant part of downtown.

"Things have gotten better. Is the problem solved? No, not by any means, but certainly from where we were at a year ago I do sense that things have gotten somewhat better," he said.

At the heart of the issue is the Ridpath and what lies in the once-proud hotel's future. Developer Ron Wells said Tuesday he's finalizing a deal that would give him ownership of about 90-percent of the building.

He hopes to start construction in the fall on a $16 Million project that would convert most of the hotel's rooms into apartments.