The Spokane City Council voted 5-2 on Monday to seek city purchase of the historic Rookery and Mohawk buildings downtown, but it placed tight restrictions on the purchase to protect the city from any potential losses.
Under the resolution, the city would buy the buildings only if it obtains a binding agreement with a private developer to repurchase the properties for a tentative amount of $4.75 million. The private developer would have to pay closing and holding costs as well.
Developer Ron Wells, who has sought the Rookery Block properties along Riverside and Sprague avenues at Howard Street, said he might be able to make the deal work but said he isn’t sure if the owner would wait long enough for him to come up with financing.
“How much time do we have?” Wells asked in a brief interview after the vote.
During earlier testimony to the council, Wells said he has $4.2 million available from investors. Wells has been involved in historic renovation in the downtown area for years.
Council President Dennis Hession, who undertook the city initiative to save the buildings two weeks ago, nearly lost the resolution he was sponsoring. Based on council member comments, it appeared the vote would be 4-3 against the purchase resolution with opposition based largely on concerns that the deal might become an obligation of the city’s general services fund for interest and holding costs.
A last-minute amendment by Councilman Al French added restrictions to protect the city from those costs, which opened the way for the 5-2 approval.
Hession said the restrictions are a mistake but voted nonetheless for the resolution. He said the restrictions are so burdensome they might kill any chance of saving the buildings.
He said the City Council would “regret it if the site turns into a parking lot.”
French and Hession were joined by council members Joe Shogan, Cherie Rodgers and Mary Verner in voting “yes.” Councilmen Brad Stark and Bob Apple voted “no.”
“The city can’t afford it,” Apple said.
Building owner Wendell Reugh began demolition of the 1931 Rookery and 1915 Mohawk buildings two weeks ago but stopped the wrecking crews after meeting with Hession and agreeing to a potential sale to the city for $4.75 million.
The resolution also calls for using the city’s power of eminent domain in a so-called “friendly condemnation” that would preserve federal tax advantages for Reugh.
If the buildings are demolished, the owner plans to turn the land into a surface parking lot.
“I don’t think that’s the kind of legacy you want to leave,” said Bart Haggin, a county resident who supports preservation of the buildings.
Matt Cohen, a professor of architecture at Washington State University, said, “Sometimes in life you have to take a risk.”