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Rookery Block buildings falling to wrecking ball

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

Demolition began this week on the historic downtown Spokane buildings known as the Rookery Block, after property owner Wendell Reugh spent three years looking for a buyer who would pay $4.5 million.

Reugh’s property manager Steve Gill said the demolition began on several small Sprague Avenue buildings and will continue around the block through the fall. Gill said crews would save until last the Rookery and Mohawk buildings, in case an 11th-hour offer comes through. He said demolition on those buildings likely would begin in mid-November.

“We have yet to see a legitimate offer,” Gill said, explaining that previous offers on the property required Reugh to take on some of the financial risk. “Nobody’s shouldering any of the risk.”

Gill said if no buyer comes forward, plans will continue to replace the buildings with a surface parking lot. Partially in response to this situation, the city passed a moratorium on demolishing buildings and replacing them with surface parking. However, the moratorium was not retroactive for projects already under way and a demolition permit for the Rookery Block had already been issued.

Reugh owns all the buildings on the block bounded by Riverside, Sprague, Howard and Stevens, except the Fernwell on the northeast corner. The block contains three buildings that would be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, said Spokane’s Historic Preservation Officer Theresa Brum. They are the Rookery, Mohawk and Merton.

“It would be a real loss to the city if those were gone,” Brum said. “It’s also an economic loss because those buildings represent potential for renovation.”

Downtown developers, including Ron Wells and Rob Brewster, as well as out-of-town parties, have looked into buying the property over the years, but haven’t been willing to pay the full asking price. Everything from office complexes to condominiums to mixed-use developments has been proposed for the block.

On Wednesday afternoon, Wells said he was still working with a real estate investment banker in Portland, trying to put a deal together. Wells said he offered $4.376 million in June 2003, but the offer was contingent on not having to pay interest on part of the property for a couple of years. Reugh wouldn’t accept those terms.

“I haven’t given up, but we’re running out of time,” Wells said. “Too bad, huh?”

Brewster said he was willing to pay $3.8 million in the past for the property, but was told by Reugh’s office that if the offer was less than $4.5 million, he shouldn’t bother presenting it. Brewster said losing the buildings in the center of downtown would be a “blight,” but that developers don’t have a duty to bankrupt themselves trying to save the buildings.

“People won’t make offers on properties that are absurdly overpriced,” Brewster said.

The prospect of demolition spurred a petition-gathering campaign by Spokane Preservation Advocates. More than 2,000 signatures were gathered on a petition presented to the mayor in the spring, protesting the possibility of demolition. Despite the launch of demolition, Matt Cohen of the SPA said he’s still optimistic the historically significant buildings will be saved.

“I just do remain optimistic because I can’t imagine him doing this,” Cohen said.

But Gill said Reugh is tiring of hearing offers that require him to take on financial risk. Gill said if Reugh wanted to take on financial risk, he’d develop the property himself.

The property will still be for sale after all the buildings are gone, but the price would likely rise to $5.25 million because the demolition work was complete, Gill said. The property is about an acre.

“We’ve been after this for three years,” Gill said. “Unless there’s a last-minute transaction we’re able to solidify with a real-live buyer, we’ll continue until they’re all gone.”


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