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Spokane science center proposal hangs on

Park Board lets contract talks continue, barely

A divided Spokane Park Board decided Thursday to give a long-proposed science center in Riverfront Park another chance.

The board split 5-5 on member Ross Kelley’s motion to let the city staff work out differences in a disputed contract with nonprofit Mobius Spokane. Chairman Gary Lawton’s vote then tipped the balance in favor.

Acting Parks and Recreation Director Leroy Eadie and Assistant City Attorney Pat Dalton said the parties are close to agreement. They plan to present a final document in January.

After the meeting, Mobius Vice President Dave Remington said he thought the organization proposed “quite a few” changes in a contract some Park Board members viewed as their final offer.

Remington agreed with Dalton that the negotiations have been unwieldy because too many Park Board members were trying to craft the language.

Frustrated by years of inconclusive negotiations, the board attempted in August to bring the issue to a head. City Councilman Bob Apple, who also serves on the Park Board, said he thought the board was setting a “drop-dead date.”

Efforts to negotiate a deal began last year after Mobius failed to meet a 2006 fundraising deadline and the original 2003 lease for the land expired.

“It was totally clear that we had had enough and this was it,” said Park Board member Kimberly Morse, who is concerned about the science center’s financial viability.

Morse said “a little tweaking” would have been OK, but she felt the revised contract city staff members and Mobius presented was “radically different.” It was printed in black, green, blue, red and orange ink to distinguish all the changes.

Dalton said most of the modifications were minor and many were related to the same issues.

He thought there were only two “material differences” in the 50-year renewable lease.

One was a Mobius request to use any leftover city environmental cleanup money for demolition of existing buildings. The other was a clause ensuring Mobius couldn’t jeopardize the city’s ownership of the land by seeking federal tax-credit financing.

Plans call for the city to retain ownership of the 5.7-acre site on the north bank of the Spokane River while Mobius would own the structures it builds.

Park Board members disagreed about whether their offer in August left any room for counterproposals.

Eadie hadn’t joined the parks staff at that time but said the board’s Aug. 6 letter to Mobius didn’t clearly preclude changes.

Kelley’s motion Thursday to let the city staff hammer out the details was supported by Elizabeth Schoedel, Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, Randy Cameron and Chris Wright, who participated by telephone.

Morse, Apple, Jim Quigley, Larry Stanley and Jim Santorsola were opposed.

The 17-member Mobius board includes Anne Cowles, wife of Spokesman-Review Publisher Stacey Cowles.