April 19, 2009 in Opinion

Our View: Private development of YMCA site remains sound

 

As recently as last summer, one scenario for Spokane’s 42-year-old YMCA building envisioned its existence and continued use for 15 to 20 more years. That was expected to be a stipulation that Spokane County commissioners would impose if they pledged Conservation Futures money to help save the Spokane Park Board from a costly and embarrassing real estate default.

Since then, the commissioners have approved the Conservation Futures funding, but they required that the old Y be demolished in five years, not 15 or 20. The next decision-making step in this convoluted and misguided affair resides in City Hall.

To recap, the Y building, which opened seven years before Expo ’74, is being vacated because the YMCA is moving to new quarters. A private developer wanted to buy the site for a condo building, but that prompted an apoplectic Spokane Park Board to exercise its option to match the offer of $5.3 million. That was in 2006.

The board put $1 million down on the deal and still doesn’t have the money to pay the balance, which is due at the end of this month. Its best hope at present is that the City Council will loan it the remaining $4.3 million, which would be paid off at $350,000 a year for the next 20 years out of the Conservation Futures money.

Forgotten in all the machinations is the most reasonable solution of all, which was on the table briefly in the form of private-sector development.

That seems out of the cards if it’s up to the Park Board, which has already put $1 million of public money in jeopardy and is now at the underwriting mercy of the city and county. If the City Council, which has declined twice before to support the Y purchase, turns down the investment fund option, the Park Board will be running out of options.

So, we ask again, what makes a private venture so odious? Other, that is, than pronouncing the words with a sneer and describing the concept in outlandishly garish terms? (A multistory monstrosity that would block out the sun?)

Actually, a private development would contribute millions of badly needed dollars to the property tax base instead of drawing out millions better spent preserving open space.

A private development would add to the mix of downtown residential property, which generates civic life in the core, where it’s needed.

A private development would be required through administrative channels to be done tastefully, preserving view lines and ample public access to the riverbank, all while providing appropriate lighting and other public-safety features.

The Park Board is unimpressed with those benefits. The City Council should be more clearheaded.


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