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Poll: Residents want more parks

Sun., Feb. 17, 2008

A week after Spokane voters approved a $43 million park bond last fall, residents said they’d be willing to pay even more for better parks and to buy the downtown YMCA.

A majority of respondents to a parks department phone poll said they would pay higher property taxes for six of eight items mentioned in the survey, including more hiking and biking trails, the purchase of more parkland and even automatic sprinklers.

But Park Board members say they likely won’t ask voters for more money anytime soon, not even to meet a 2009 deadline to buy the YMCA. In 2006, the board, concerned that the YMCA might be sold to make way for a high-rise condo, voted to make a $1 million down payment on the property. The building is surrounded by Riverfront Park.

“It’s the right thing to do to acquire it,” said interim Parks Director Roger Crum. “The question is how to do it.”

The mid-November survey showed that 51 percent of residents support higher taxes to buy the YMCA. Thirty-five percent were opposed.

The YMCA plans to move into a new complex on Monroe Street in April 2009. To finish the purchase, the Park Board must come up with an additional $4.3 million by the time the YMCA completes its move. If the city doesn’t pay, it will lose the down payment.

When the purchase price was set, Park Board members said they probably would ask voters for the money. Last week, however, some members said they prefer to raise the money without taxes.

“We need to finish the work on the current bond issue before we start jumping on to something else,” said Gary Lawton, who was named the board president last week.

The property tax-backed bond approved in November will pay for new swimming pools, splash pads, baseball fields and a sports complex.

Outgoing Park Board President Frank Knott suggested that the city could borrow the money and pay it back by maintaining the old YMCA as a recreational complex and charging fees. He said the department also could lease a portion of the building as office space.

Keeping the old YMCA, built in 1964, would solve another parks department challenge. In 2006, the city closed the Shadle pool, leaving the city without a year-round pool. A proposal to build a $27 million indoor aquatics and recreation center was pulled from last year’s bond measure over concerns voters would reject the cost because many details, including a location, weren’t nailed down.

Rig Riggins, president of the YMCA of the Inland Northwest, said the organization would not consider a city-run recreation complex in its old building as competition.

“It would be a great asset for the community,” Riggins said.

No matter what happens, Knott said the city won’t lose the down payment because the parks department could borrow the money to buy the YMCA, then immediately sell it.

“If the people think the parks department shouldn’t own it, there’s another option,” he said.

The telephone poll, with a margin of error of about 4 percentage points, was conducted by Strategic Research Associates.


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