September 21, 2008 in Opinion

Our View: One obstacle to convention center growth removed

 

It was pricey, but the real estate deal struck this week by the Spokane Public Facilities District removes an obstacle that could have frustrated the city’s resurgent convention and visitor trade for years to come. As it has for years past.

On Tuesday, the district’s board approved a $7 million purchase of 61,000 square feet across Spokane Falls Boulevard from the city’s convention center. For $116.50 per square foot, the city now can secure all but 18,000 square feet of the land that may someday be the site of a banquet facility, parking structure or other features to augment the convention center.

The remaining land, owned by Diamond Parking Inc., of Seattle, remains the subject of condemnation proceedings in court. Once both matters are finalized, the Public Facilities District will be in its best position ever to plan the next expansion of the community’s convention facilities.

The Public Facilities District took over management of the convention center five years ago, but long before that the city began trying to acquire the space to the south, a natural location for expansion when convention and tourism business justified it. But unreasonable price demands blocked those efforts.

In 2000, facing a deadline to qualify for $36 million in state support, the city scrambled to study two leading alternatives for the convention center’s first major expansion. Hopes for a “friendly condemnation” with architect/developer Glen Cloninger and other owners of the property to the south turned out to be idealistic, if not naïve.

The ultimate decision to build east, probably not the better choice, was finally made largely because Clonginer and others in the ownership group were demanding too much.

Way, way too much – up to $300 a square foot, which would have amounted to about $30 million. Some real estate specialists called such an amount unheard of in Spokane.

By February 2007, Cloninger lowered the value to $150 a square foot, or $9.5 million in all. Better, perhaps, but still steep in comparison with nearby commercial projects.

Finally, when efforts to avoid condemnation proved fruitless, the district asked the city to launch eminent domain proceedings.

The deal reached this week through mediation, costly though it may be, looks appealing when compared with the demands of the past.

It appears the Public Facilities District, which expects to conduct a master planning process after the first of the year, will be able to move forward without being blocked by a balky property owner.

Recently, Harry Sladich, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, boasted that tourism is on the rise in Spokane. His goal of filling 80,000 convention-delegate hotel rooms a year is bolstered by the previous expansion, which he credits with bringing a dozen groups to Spokane next year.

That doesn’t mean the time for another expansion is at hand. But the sooner the property acquisition can be resolved, the better prepared the Public Facility District will be to move when that time comes.

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