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Judge Rejects Lawsuit Over Downtown Plan Court Rules City Acted Properly In Backing River Park Project

A Superior Court judge threw out a lawsuit filed by opponents of the River Park Square project on Friday, paving the way for the start of construction.

Judge Kathleen O’Connor affirmed the city’s use of an emergency ordinance to approve the project and said the City Council has acted in the best interest of the city.

“Obviously we’re very thrilled,” said Betsy Cowles, president of Citizens Realty. “We’re moving full-steam ahead and trying to get things into order to begin construction as soon as possible.

“We don’t have an exact date as to when the wrecking ball is going to arrive, but we’re getting closer,” Cowles said.

River Park Square is a $100 million downtown redevelopment project that would include a new and expanded Nordstrom store, a 24-screen cinema and other shops and restaurants.

The city has pledged parking meter money to help pay for the project’s garage if parking revenues can’t cover expenses. The city also has agreed to vacate a street for the project and is helping developers secure a federal Housing and Urban Development loan.

In a written ruling, O’Connor said she was satisfied the city complied with the law, provided a plan, necessary studies and an opportunity for public comment before the adoption of the emergency ordinance.

Supporters have called the project a catalyst that will save downtown. Opponents call it corporate welfare.

Attorney Steve Eugster, who represents three different plaintiffs in the case against the city, has said the city should not be involved in a private development.

Eugster could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Duane Swinton, attorney for River Park Square, was told by Eugster that he would appeal the ruling if he lost. Swinton said he will ask the court to overturn the appeal when it is filed.

“I think she (O’Connor) clearly stated that it’s not the court’s function to substitute her opinion for that of the city’s,” Swinton said.

On Thursday, Eugster said the case is not about saving downtown or providing the region with an economic development tool. Rather, he said, it’s about the city assisting a private developer by vacating a street, paying rent for land and a garage, and helping the developer secure millions of dollars in HUD money to build a shopping center.

“This issue is an emotional one for both sides,” O’Connor said. “The quality of the legal work amply demonstrates how dedicated all parties are to their vision of Spokane and their view of the role of government in our community.

“The City Council had the opportunity to hear and view the many diverse opinions and concerns raised by citizens both for and against the project,” the judge said.

Swinton said there is a multitude of public testimony proving that the project will create jobs and increase tax revenue.

River Park Square is owned by Citizens Realty Co. and Lincoln Investment Co., affiliates of Cowles Publishing Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.

, DataTimes

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