September 20, 2008 in City

Redevelopment awards granted, pulled

State says decision process flawed
By GENE JOHNSON Associated Press
 

SEATTLE – It was big money for Vancouver, Mount Vernon, Yakima and Whitman County: millions of dollars to help with redevelopment efforts.

But the awards and the elation that followed were put on hold Friday, a day after the favored projects were announced, as the state board that made the decision said it had uncovered a scoring error and would have to reconsider.

“This is the biggest bureaucratic bungle I’ve seen in 35 years of working with state government,” Mark Brown, a lobbyist for the city of Vancouver, said Friday. “For them to tell the city of Vancouver we’re the top-scoring project, and then to call us 24 hours later and say, ‘Oops, we made a mistake,’ that’s just unacceptable.”

Nine projects statewide vied for the “local infrastructure financing tool,” or LIFT, awards, which are given out by a board within the state’s Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development. The awards, created by lawmakers in 2006, essentially allow local governments to keep state sales tax money to help pay bonds.

The projects are scored based on factors such as how many jobs they are expected to create and how well those jobs pay. On Friday, the department said it had discovered a data entry error in the scoring.

“Based on this new information, Community Economic Revitalization Board staff and board members are in the process of reviewing the scoring and a special meeting … will be scheduled to review the awards,” the department said in a news release.

Matt Ojennus, interim program manager for the Community Economic Revitalization Board, declined to offer any further explanation or say how drastic the scoring error was.

The projects that were chosen, and their awards:

•Vancouver: $500,000 a year for the next 25 years to encourage the development of a dense community waterfront along the Columbia River. The money was to be used for rail and road improvements to spur redevelopment of the former Boise Cascade paper mill. According to the Columbian newspaper, investors planned to spend more than $1 billion to build 2,700 condominiums and apartments, plus stores, restaurants, offices, two hotels, and 10 acres of park and open space.

•Mount Vernon: $500,000 a year for up to 25 years to help build a new parking garage to replace parking spots lost to floodwall work along the Skagit River. Expected to help create 2,500 jobs.

•Yakima: $1 million a year for up to 25 years to redevelop a former Boise Cascade site. The project calls for adding manufacturing and retail facilities, plus some housing, resulting in the creation of 4,600 jobs.

•Whitman County: $362,000 for up to 25 years for retail development near the Idaho border expected to create 1,400 jobs.

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