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Rookery gets sole bidder

The Bank American building towers over the partially demolished Rookery building in downtown Spokane. 
 (file / The Spokesman-Review)
The Bank American building towers over the partially demolished Rookery building in downtown Spokane. (file / The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane City Hall effort to save the 1934 Rookery and 1915 Mohawk buildings downtown has drawn a purchase proposal from just one private development company, which wants to renovate the buildings for residential and commercial uses.

Wells & Co. of Spokane met Monday’s deadline for submitting its proposal for the $4.8 million properties at Riverside Avenue and Howard Street.

The deal could save the two buildings. Wrecking crews were stopped last November when the owner agreed to give the city time to find a private purchaser. Dozens of preservationists had pressed the city to save the structures.

At least one other developer has contacted the city about a prospective proposal but was not able to meet the deadline, said John Pilcher, the city’s economic development director.

The proposal from Wells & Co. follows a controversial vote last December in which the City Council agreed to a purchase arrangement with longtime owner Wendell Reugh, but only if city funds were not put at risk.

Pilcher told City Council members during a Monday briefing session that he and his staff were evaluating the Wells proposal to make sure it meets the city’s requirements.

Ron Wells, who has extensive experience in historic renovations in Spokane, has said that he and other investors were planning to pool $5 million in cash to acquire the property and then use bank financing for renovation and construction of what could become a mixed-use complex.

Previously, Wells and other investors were unable to reach purchase agreements with Reugh on the nearly one block of downtown property, but an emerging market for downtown condominiums has spurred interest in the Rookery-Mohawk redevelopment.

The purchase proposal also validates an effort by Mayor Dennis Hession, who met with Reugh last November and got him to agree to let the city find a private purchaser.

The adjacent Merton Block building, which dated to 1890, was torn down in November 2004. A series of smaller buildings along Sprague Avenue were also torn down that year.

Hession, who was council president at the time, subsequently won council support for a resolution allowing the city to purchase the property, but only if a private developer had cash to repurchase it from the city immediately.

Hession and preservationists had argued that in addition to losing two historically significant buildings, the demolitions would have left a gaping hole in the city’s commercial center.

“I am still interested in ensuring we do not have a surface parking lot at that location,” Hession said on Monday.

Members of Spokane Preservation Advocates spent nearly $30,000 of the organization’s money to fight demolition, said Joanne Moyer, a leader in the group, which lobbied city officials, bought newspaper advertising and demonstrated in front of the structures.

Moyer on Monday said she is pleased Wells has submitted a proposal. “I am delighted it’s someone local that’s going to do it,” she said, adding that Wells would not tear down the two old buildings.

Moyer said the campaign to save the Rookery and Mohawk buildings was the biggest challenge taken up so far by SPA, which was formed in 1997 in large part to prevent demolition of historic buildings.