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Council to discuss YMCA purchase today

The public will get a chance today to speak on a proposal to buy the downtown YMCA and turn the land into natural space.

Spokane County commissioners are considering a plan to use $4.3 million of Conservation Futures money to buy the property, adjacent to Spokane Falls and surrounded by Riverfront Park.

The city is obligated to buy the land and has already put $1 million down on the property. It must come up with the remaining $4.3 million of the purchase price by spring.

Park Board members and King Cole, who led the effort to create the park, argue that Conservation Futures is the best option because it ensures public ownership of the land and helps the park maintain its goal of being an environmental showcase in the heart of downtown.

Some City Council members, however, have questioned if it’s best to turn the land into natural space – as would be mandated if Conservation Futures money is used. A public-private partnership, they say, may be a better way to pay for the land, which would allow an attraction to be built to bring more people into the park.

An unscientific online survey found 85 percent support for using Conservation Futures. Last week, the parks department spent about $8,000 to hire a firm to perform a scientific phone survey. Park Director Barry Russell said last week that the results should be ready for today’s meeting. The final decision rests with the county commission, but the City Council was asked for an advisory vote. In late November, they voted against recommending the idea to the county. Council President Joe Shogan has brought the issue back for another vote tonight.

County Commissioner Mark Richard, who has said he leans against the idea, said his biggest concern about the plan is that voters may not feel buying developed property is appropriate use of Conservation Futures property tax.

Today’s council meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

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