December 25, 2008 in City

Use futures fund to buy Y, voters say in poll

County leaders take note of support for park move
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A new survey about the purchase of the downtown YMCA may help push the land into public ownership.

Two county commissioners who were undecided or leaning against a plan to buy the Y using Conservation Futures taxes said last week that they’re impressed by the support shown for the idea in a new survey sponsored by the Spokane Park Board.

The poll showed that 57 percent of county voters support using Conservation Futures with only 20 percent opposed.

“I feel like I am leaning toward going forward with purchasing the property,” County Commissioner Bonnie Mager said Wednesday. “The people voted for the (Conservation Futures) funding. If that’s what the majority of people want us to do, then I’m comfortable with that.”

Commissioner Mark Richard said last week that the survey could influence his opinion, though he still has concerns about the project. Commissioner Todd Mielke already has voiced his support.

If the county goes ahead with the purchase, it would be a relief for the city’s Park Board, which put $1 million toward the downtown YMCA’s purchase price of $5.3 million in 2006 in an attempt to prevent the construction of a condo tower. The land is surrounded by Riverfront Park and is adjacent to Spokane Falls.

By this spring, the city must come up with the $4.3 million or face the loss of the $1 million. .

The concept has found opposition on the Spokane City Council, which voted 4-3 last month against recommending the idea to county commissioners, who have the final say. In a second vote last week, the council switched course and unanimously voted to make “no official recommendation.”

Some opponents have questioned the cost and say purchase of other important properties could be delayed or skipped because of the substantial price of the Y. They also have criticized a requirement to tear down the Y within five years.

“I don’t think it’s a proper use of Conservation Futures funding, nor do I want to see it stripped to bare ground,” said Councilman Mike Allen. “We want to give more people more reasons to go to our parks, not less reasons.”

Allen said he appreciates the information from the survey, but wonders if poll takers understood the possible problems with the concept.

Supporters say the purchase would be paid off over 20 years so other natural land could still be pursued, and that the idea would allow the county to prominently showcase the Conservation Futures program in a place where taxpayers are likely to see its benefits.

Park Board member Steve McNutt said the Y is nearing the end of its useful life unless it gets a multimillion-dollar renovation in the next few years. He noted that several attempts at generating revenue in the park have faltered, including restaurants, farmers markets and other attractions.

“We’ve chased this dream for 30 years and it hasn’t materialized,” he said.

Lisa Cole Taylor, whose father, King Cole, led the effort to create Riverfront Park, said a natural area will bring people to the park and downtown.

“It really was the vision of the leaders back in the ’60s when the land was covered by railroad tracks and it was just an eyesore,” Cole Taylor said. “The thought that it could be transformed back into a more natural state was what my dad thought was key to a really healthy, vibrant city.”

The survey, which cost the city parks department about $7,000, was conducted by Strategic Research Associates. It has a margin of error of about 5 percent.

Last month, the county conducted an unscientific poll that found 85 percent support among 1,200 completed surveys.

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at jonathanb@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5442.


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