January 5, 2005 in Business

Panel puts final touches on river gorge project

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The master plan is done. The group that put it together has held its last meeting. Now all that stands in the way of the Spokane River Gorge becoming a recreational, natural and cultural Mecca is money.

On Tuesday morning, the steering committee that worked for months to put together the master plan flipped through the multi-color, 120-page document that defines the objectives for the 400-acre river gorge through downtown Spokane. The plan prioritizes 15 major projects, including developing a scenic boulevard along the river’s north bank, building a Native American cultural center, creating connections to the Centennial Trail and enhancing parks along the south bank of the river.

Also envisioned are two whitewater kayaking parks, creation of a scenic overlook, development of an access “gateway” on the west side of town, restoration of the river bank and native vegetation, and developing a new master plan for the city’s High Bridge Park.

“We’ve seen it happen before; when you have a plan, you’ll get the money,” said Daniel Iacofano, the Berkeley, Calif.-based consultant who was hired to guide the master planning process.

Iacofano identified a wide array of possible money sources, including the city parks budget and general fund, local improvement districts, lodging tax allocations, excise taxes, bond measures, impact fees, community development money and tax-increment financing. He urged all the groups that have participated in the planning process to do whatever they can to pursue different money sources.

“There are a lot of ways we can begin to piece together a mosaic of funding,” Iacofano said.

The project that might have the most “legs,” said Mike Edwards, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, is creation of a whitewater kayaking park below the recently opened Sandifur Memorial footbridge. The opening of the bridge, which crosses the river west of downtown, provided a publicity boost for the gorge project, when news coverage showed kayakers playing in the waves below the bridge.

Local boating groups have formed a committee aiming to raise $15,000 and are hoping for matching funds of $35,000 from the business community. That $50,000 would be used for an engineered site plan for the whitewater park. Forming the park would require installing obstacles in the river that would create wave features.

Also, the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce has included $425,000 to develop the whitewater park in its Legislative request for 2005. If that money is approved, Edwards said, it would be available in July to build the park. The goal is to have the park in place by the fall of 2006.

John Moyer, a former state senator and prominent Friends of the Falls member, said in order to win the $425,000 appropriation from the Legislature, Spokane must send the message that the entire community is behind this project. When Tacoma was applying for money for revitalization efforts, Moyer said, “They just beat the Legislature to death. You couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone from Tacoma looking for money.”

That’s what Spokane needs to do now, he said.

“Here we are. We are the gateway to the Northwest,” Moyer said. “It’s time we make that known.”


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