December 1, 2009 in City

With caveat, city takes county money for Y

Council leaves room for developer to step in
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Most members of the Spokane City Council on Monday spoke in favor of transforming a building on an acre surrounded by Riverfront Park into apartments and commercial space.

But facing a Wednesday deadline, a $4.3 million debt and budget deficit in 2010, the council tentatively agreed to accept county money to pay off what the city owes on the land, a step that would turn the property into park space and require the building, the former downtown YMCA, be torn down.

Even so, they kept open the possibility of private development within the park by unanimously voting to allow a final attempt to find a developer willing to transform the 43-year-old building. The provision approved by the City Council requires the city to create a bidding process to ask for ideas for renovation before accepting the county’s offer to use existing Conservation Futures property taxes for the purchase.

The amendment was added in a last-second compromise pushed by council President Joe Shogan. Before the change, it appeared unlikely that there were the four votes necessary to maintain the option of using the county money to buy the Y.

Besides Shogan, council members Bob Apple, Steve Corker and Al French voted in favor accepting the Conservation Futures money if no acceptable development option is found.

The council voted last summer to borrow $4.3 million to pay the remaining debt on the YMCA, for which the Spokane Park Board agreed to pay $5.3 million in 2006. The Park Board paid $1 million from its reserves and persuaded county leaders to finish the purchase.

But county leaders stipulated that they wouldn’t use the money for the Y unless City Council agreed. They also set Wednesday as the deadline for the council to make a decision.

If the City Council had rejected the county money Monday, Mayor Mary Verner and some other city officials warned that the $350,000 annual payment on the city’s debt would create a hole in the 2010 budget that would require cuts or layoffs.

In keeping development of the Y as an option, the council sets aside the recommendation of the $17,000 study it demanded be performed on the building. That analysis said the best financial option would be for the city to accept Conservation Futures money, because the building needs significant renovation and would not generate positive revenue for the first 10 years.

But some council members rejected the report, saying it ignored key factors, and Ron Wells, a developer who has specialized in renovating historic buildings in the core of the city, testified Monday that the structure could be revitalized with high-priced apartments facing the falls, and low-income apartments and high-quality office space elsewhere. He suggested that the city consider crafting long-term leases that would require improvement be paid by developers. Wells said he is willing to make a bid on a long-term lease.

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