September 18, 2007 in City

Council approves Playfair payment

By The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane City Council on Monday agreed to make a down payment on 45 acres of the former Playfair racetrack – to itself.

The 5-1 vote puts the city in position to buy the land, which is in the East Central Neighborhood, from its own utilities division, which purchased the property in 2004 to use for a sewer plant. Soon after buying the land, leaders decided not to build a plant on the site.

There is wide agreement that the land should be used to promote economic development, but there’s debate about how to accomplish that.

Administration officials say the transfer is necessary because the utilities division isn’t allowed to use its resources on economic development activities.

Councilman Al French has proposed building a train loading center on the site. The East Central Business Association hopes for residential and light-industrial growth.

Spokane’s Chief Operating Officer John Pilcher has suggested the city could lease the land to businesses. Some argue it simply should be sold to the highest bidder.

Monday’s decision allocates $150,000 for a down payment and $25,000 for two studies on how to best use the land.

The agreement also locks in a sale price.

If the council decides to buy the land, it will have to pay the utilities division $2.8 million, or $1.43 a square foot.

In 2004, the utility division bought 63 acres of Playfair for $6.3 million, or $2.29 a square foot.

The wastewater department has opted to hold on to 18 acres of the land for stormwater storage tanks.

Supporters of the decision said the sale eventually will help generate jobs and possibly tax dollars.

“This is a step forward to get the property back on the tax rolls,” said Council President Joe Shogan.

But Councilman Bob Apple, the only vote against the agreement and studies, questioned the spending of tax money and said the city should let private industry determine the best use for the site.

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