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Handling of two Y’s a study in contrast

YWCA leader Trish McFarland has expressed confidence that another buyer will step in and purchase the agency’s former facility on the north bank of the Spokane River. If she’s right, and we hope she is, that transaction is more promising than the one clumsily taking place to the south.

The city and Spokane County have their hands full right now trying to work out an unwise public acquisition of the other Y – the YMCA – which the Spokane Park Board is determined to prevent from becoming a tax-paying parcel.

As the city and county dicker over the conditions under which the city can tap the county’s Conservation Futures fund to finalize that transaction, the YWCA had a private buyer lined up in a $4 million deal for its own site overlooking the Spokane Falls. The prospective buyer, SRM Development, had put $250,000 down four years ago and wanted to erect a twin condo project. But SRM has backed out, probably an unfortunate consequence of the stressed economy.

But McFarland said she thinks the property is too appealing to be overlooked for long. If so, then it’s a matter of time before private development of the site winds up on the community’s property tax rolls.

Not so with the YMCA, situated just over the dramatic river gorge from the YWCA.

The YMCA also had a private suitor – in 2006 – and he, too, envisioned a condo project that would have put tax dollars into city, county and school district treasuries while promoting civic vitality in the downtown area.

The Park Board, unfortunately, thought it was more important to spend public funds than to raise them, and it exercised a first right of refusal to buy the site that developer Mark Pinch had been eyeing.

Once it put $1 million down on the $5.3 million deal, though, the Park Board didn’t know where it was going to get the rest of the money. Eventually it appealed to Spokane County commissioners who control Conservation Futures money, a popular fund that is intended for the preservation of open space and wildlife habitat – purposes that hardly seem to match an urban core location that’s had a well-used structure on it for almost half a century and a parking lot before that.

Without question, the river’s course through downtown Spokane – especially the dramatic cascades that tumble between the two Y’s – constitutes a civic treasure and shouldn’t be turned over to rabid exploiters who would fence it off as a preserve of the rich.

That’s not the only alternative, of course. Reasonable land-use regulations can be used to preserve public access and view lines. The city’s future would be served by a thoughtful compromise.

Spokane needs the tax revenue, and it needs healthy downtown foot traffic that a mix of residential development can provide, not just during the workday, but on weekends and evenings.

If the YWCA purchase can be revived, that possibility may be demonstrated, in sharp contrast with present plans for the YMCA, which will keep valuable property off the tax rolls while eating up $350,000 a year for 20 years that might have been used to acquire genuine natural areas.


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