March 29, 1998 in City

River Park Plan Praised, Condemned Second Hearing Held Before Monday’s Vote

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Familiar refrains kept playing during nearly four hours of public testimony Saturday on the River Park Square redevelopment project.

Mild spring weather and a cloudless sky didn’t distract the 200-plus people who crowded into the council chambers to tell the Spokane City Council how they feel about the plan.

While supporters praised the project as downtown’s white knight, opponents bashed the plan as corporate welfare.

“This risk that Spokane faces if this project does not go forward … would be to truly and tragically sink our city,” said resident David Coombs.

“I don’t think you’re going to find anyone against this project,” said Ronald Fowler. “What I’m against is using public dollars.”

Saturday’s meeting was the second of two hearings that will serve as a prelude to the council’s Monday vote on a $22.65 million federal loan. If approved, the money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be loaned to the city, which will then loan the money to River Park Square’s developers. Dozens of other cities around the country have used the program for similar economic development plans.

Monday’s vote likely will come before the council gets final word from HUD on the loan. The federal agency has given the loan preliminary approval and city officials and developers say they don’t expect significant changes in the details of the loan.

The $110 million redevelopment project includes a new Nordstrom store, a 20-screen cinema complex, expanded parking, and numerous shops and restaurants.

Project advocates in the audience easily outnumbered critics 5-to-1. Many of those sported buttons that said “Keep downtown alive,” complete with a battery-powered red light and what resembled the jagged-line readout of a heart monitor.

Re-enforcing that theme, Charlie Schmidt told the council he’d walked through downtown Spokane on the way to City Hall. “I couldn’t find a pulse.”

Like Schmidt, other supporters painted dark pictures of the city’s core without the project: no people, boarded up buildings and crime.

George McGrath, an outspoken opponent of the plan, handed out leaflets that said “Are you for the River (Park) Area Parking Enclave, the R.A.P.E. of Spokane?” His neon-yellow flyer questioned a dueling flyer pushed by project supporters that said no taxpayer dollars would be used in the project.

The city is using taxpayer dollars “so that private individuals will be guaranteed they’ll make money,” McGrath said.

Mike Adolfae, of the city’s community development department, said the $22.65 million loan comes from bonds sold by HUD to private investors. The only taxpayer money involved in the project is a $1 million economic development grant the project received three years ago, Adolfae said.

If the project should fail and both the developer and the city default on the loan, Spokane Community Development Block Grant money would be used for repayment.

According to HUD, no city has used its block grant dollars to repay a loan.

Laurent Poole, vice-president of the Sabey Corp., which owns NorthTown Mall, said he thought the council needed more information before a final vote. Specifically, Poole said, the project needs an appraisal and a market feasibility study.

“Why the rush to judgment on this?” he said.

The city plans to hire an appraiser soon, officials said. And, project supporters, including Councilman Orville Barnes, note that further market feasibility study isn’t needed because signed leases predict the project’s success.

Developers have told the city they need to know by early next week if the loan will be approved because Nordstrom plans to start construction April 1.

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

, DataTimes MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Monday vote The City Council plans to vote on the $22.65 million federal loan Monday at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. No public testimony will be allowed.

2. Ready to build Developers have told the city they need to know by early next week if the loan will be approved because Nordstrom plans to start construction April 1.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Monday vote The City Council plans to vote on the $22.65 million federal loan Monday at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. No public testimony will be allowed.

2. Ready to build Developers have told the city they need to know by early next week if the loan will be approved because Nordstrom plans to start construction April 1.


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