A year after agreeing to sell at a loss one of the largest undeveloped patches of industrial land in central Spokane, city leaders believe they can turn a profit from the property.
Spokane City Council last week voted to sell most of the former Playfair horse track, which the city purchased in 2004.
The approved agreement says the city will accept no offers for the land lower than $5.1 million, or $2.54 a square foot. The city paid $2.29 a square foot for the land in 2004, but the council agreed last year to sell it for $1.43 a square foot – an action set aside after Mary Verner become mayor.
“I like it a lot better because we are going to get all the money we expended back,” said Spokane Public Works Director Dave Mandyke. “The administration believes that the utility should not lose money on this transaction.”
With money collected through utility bills, the city bought the land to use as a site for a sewer plant. That plan was scrapped. Mandyke said money made from the sale will be used for other wastewater operations and projects.
The deal considered last year would have sold the property from the city’s utility division, which is funded by sewer and water bills, to city departments funded by tax money. Then-Mayor Dennis Hession said he wanted to use the land to promote economic development.
City Councilman Al French argued that the city should promote construction of a train-loading center on the property . He said the land’s proximity to the future North Spokane Corridor, Interstate 90, and BNSF and Union Pacific rail lines made it a desireable location for a transportation hub that could generate business opportunities.
French was out of town for last week’s 6-0 vote in favor of the new plan. He said in an interview that city administrators appear to want to “get it on the tax rolls at all costs.”
“It’s sacrificing future opportunity for short-term gain,” French said.
He added that putting a minimum bid on the sale could drive the sale price down.
But City Administrator Ted Danek said the minimum price shouldn’t hurt the final deal because interested parties likely will bid the price they think it’s worth. He said two or three groups have expressed interest in the property.
To buy the property, parties are required to submit plans for the site. The city won’t have to select the highest bidder if officials believe ideas submitted with a lower price offer more benefits to the community.
Former Mayor Jim West promoted the land’s purchase to build a sewage plant in partnership with Spokane County. But negotiations with the county soured soon after the land was purchased, and the county bought the nearby former stockyards property to build its own plant. The city paid $6.3 million for 63 acres of Playfair and will keep 18 acres for a storm water storage project.