Coeur d’Alene’s education corridor moved a step closer to reality Tuesday after North Idaho College’s board of trustees authorized the signing of an agreement that calls for the college to spend $10 million on an old mill site along the Spokane River.
The board’s attorney, Marc Lyons, presented an appraisal valuing the 17-acre property just north of the college at $13.25 million, higher than the proposed purchase price. Developer Marshall Chesrown has a contract to buy the property and has agreed to turn around and sell it to NIC for $10 million for development of the education corridor.
The regional hub would allow local students to earn degrees from Idaho colleges and universities while remaining in North Idaho.
The board previously approved using $2.4 million in forgone taxes, which are uncollected property taxes, to contribute toward that purchase price.
The board’s action Tuesday authorized Chairman Rolly Williams and college President Priscilla Bell to sign a memorandum of understanding with Chesrown in the coming days that will pave the way for a purchase agreement. Details still being worked out include issues regarding the land title and environmental cleanup, Lyons said.
The agreement calls for the NIC Foundation to purchase the property and for NIC to have a lease-purchase option to acquire the property over time, Lyons said.
“The ultimate goal is that North Idaho College will purchase the property,” Lyons said. The purchase of the mill is a key step in creating the education corridor, NIC officials have said.
Businessman Richard Phenneger, however, protested the board’s decision, saying he doesn’t believe adequate information has been provided justifying the use of taxpayer money. He said NIC hasn’t released enough information about where the money will come from to buy the property, what the college’s expenses will be or whether a business plan exists.
“The point is when you’re spending taxpayer money … you have to hold yourself to the highest standard,” Phenneger said in an interview before the meeting. The Post Falls man has decided to run for board member Judy Meyer’s position due to his concerns. He has also claimed Meyer has a conflict of interest because Ed Morse, a business partner of Meyer’s husband, Steve, completed the appraisal.
Phenneger said Steve Meyer, a commercial developer, stands to benefit from development opportunities if the parcel is purchased. The master plan for the property shows one-third of it would be set aside for commercial development, Phenneger said.
However, the board and its attorney are satisfied no conflict of interest exists, they said. Board member Mic Armon said the trustees did not select the appraiser; Lyons and NIC administrator Rolly Jurgens did. In addition, Armon said, for conflict of interest to exist, there must be monetary gain, which he said he doesn’t see in Phenneger’s claims.
“I believe it’s a bit of stretch,” Armon said. “You have to be able to show there’s a benefit there. I think it’s a non-event.”