November 25, 2008 in City

Council rejects money for Y

Hopes dim for county’s purchase
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Spokane City Council said no thanks Monday to county leaders considering a plan to buy the downtown YMCA in Riverfront Park with existing public money.

If county commissioners don’t fund the purchase, the city will have to buy the YMCA and sell it to a private party or ask voters to approve a new tax.

The council’s 4-3 vote is a blow to the Spokane Park Board’s hope to acquire the land, which borders Spokane Falls and is surrounded by Riverfront Park.

The Park Board put $1 million down on the land in 2006 and owes $4.3 million more by April 28. Parks officials have worked with county leaders to craft a plan to use Conservation Futures money to pay for the rest.

“I’m absolutely frustrated and appalled,” Park Board member Steve McNutt said after the vote. “I feel like (the council) completely pulled the rug out from under us.”

Council members Mike Allen, Steve Corker, Al French and Nancy McLaughlin voted against a resolution recommending that county leaders use Conservation Futures to buy the property. The county doesn’t have to follow the council’s recommendation, but officials say Monday’s vote makes county approval more unlikely.

The council members criticized the large price and wondered if the Conservation Futures money could be rescinded by future county leaders, leaving the city with a significant debt.

Under the county plan to buy the Y, the city would borrow the $4.3 million and the county would pay it off with Conservation Futures dollars.

Allen said the purchase of the Y would go against the spirit of the Conservation Futures program, which has been used to buy land already in a natural state. He added that a public-private partnership could create a development at the site that might be more appealing than a condo tower.

“It’s probably the most expensive eight-tenths of an acre outside of King County,” Allen said.

With or without the Conservation Futures money, the city still has an agreement to buy the land. Parks officials have said without the county money, the city would have to buy the land and sell it or ask voters to pay for the purchase. If the city sells it, it’s uncertain whether the city could recapture the full $5.3 million price because of declining property values.

French said the purchase could be added to a proposal next year for higher taxes on police and fire spending.

He added that if the land ends up in commercial hands, a condo tower would be unlikely given the state of the real estate market. “We already have a commercial use in the park. It’s called the Y,” French said.

Corker expressed support for using Conservation Futures, but said he felt the plan was rushed. He unsuccessfully attempted to delay a vote for a week to allow a public hearing on the matter.

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


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