Five Spokane City Council members sent their own letter to federal officials Friday, defending a proposed $22.65 million loan to a downtown redevelopment project and dismissing concerns raised by Mayor John Talbott.
The letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was sent in reaction to a December letter written by Talbott. He asked HUD for a meeting with agency officials and raised questions about the pending loan for the River Park Square project.
Council members didn’t learn of Talbott’s letter until this week.
Talbott’s letter “was done in complete contravention to the three-year history of enthusiastic support that the council and the citizens of Spokane have expressed concerning this project,” the council members’ letter said.
It was signed by council members Jeff Colliton, Roberta Greene, Rob Higgins and Phyllis Holmes.
Orville Barnes - an avid supporter of the redevelopment project - is on vacation. His name appears on the letter without his signature.
“Mr. Talbott’s statement is a position statement, not a policy statement,” Holmes said Friday.
Colliton said part of the letter’s intent is to clarify for HUD officials the mayor’s role in Spokane city government.
“They might have the opinion that he’s a strong mayor, that the mayor is not one of seven but one of one,” Colliton said.
Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers didn’t sign the letter, saying that Talbott was asking HUD legitimate questions.
“He was not doing it on behalf of the council,” she said. “It says ‘I’ all the way through.”
On Friday, Talbott reacted positively to news the council had sent a letter to HUD.
“I’m glad they sent the letter back,” he said. “I want to see the project go ahead … as long as it’s a good deal for the citizens of Spokane.”
The proposed public-private partnership calls for HUD to loan the city $22.65 million, which then would be loaned to River Park Square developers. The loan has received preliminary approval but hasn’t been awarded.
The $100 million River Park Square project includes a new Nordstrom department store, a multiplex cinema, expanded parking and numerous shops and restaurants.
In his Dec. 16 letter, Talbott asked HUD officials to delay a decision on the loan until after he met with them. Talbott plans to be in Washington, D.C., from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting.
On Jan. 8, a Washington, D.C., lobbying group sent a letter and a 14-page, unsigned memorandum to HUD that raises questions about the security of the loan and the adequacy of information given the public about the project.
The letter from Bracy Williams & Co. states the accompanying memorandum should help “facilitate discussions when the mayor meets with you later this month.”
Holmes charged earlier this week that Talbott was raising questions about the loan because of his alliance with Dave Sabey, developer of NorthTown Mall.
Sabey spent about $30,000 on the effort to defeat Talbott’s opponent, then-Mayor Jack Geraghty. Sabey did not give money to Talbott’s campaign. A Sabey spokesman said Thursday that Bracy Williams occasionally does work for the company.
Talbott dismissed the link with Sabey on Friday, saying he didn’t know why the questions were sent in connection to his letter. He added the allegation was meant to take attention away from the real issue. “All I’m asking for is information to be clearly stated: What is the risk to the citizens?” he said.
In their letter to HUD, council members said the loan has been the subject of “considerable discussion, deliberation and planning … since the summer of 1995.”
The details of the loan have been reviewed “numerous times” by the city’s finance committee, the letter said.
“It is with this background the council must express its deep dismay at the unilateral action taken by John Talbott concerning this project,” the letter said.
“Mr. Talbott certainly has the right to express his viewpoint … but that viewpoint should not be taken as representative of the official position of the city of Spokane.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: AN OPPOSING VIEW Council members whose names appeared on the letter to HUD supporting a proposed $22.65 million loan to a downtown redevelopment project are Orville Barnes, Jeff Colliton, Roberta Greene, Phyllis Holmes and Rob Higgins.