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Council OKs Y purchase

City has six months to determine land’s use

The Spokane City Council on Monday grudgingly agreed to buy the former YMCA in Riverfront Park.

The unanimous vote means the YMCA of the Inland Northwest will be fully compensated for the $5.3 million that the Spokane Park Board agreed to pay in 2006 to stop a developer from paying the same amount to build a condo tower on the site.

Council members made it clear that their action was motivated by their desire to avoid hardship for the YMCA, which has long planned to use money from the sale to fund new Y buildings.

“We have an obligation to a nonprofit organization that serves this community well and has so for decades,” Councilman Richard Rush said.

The decision means the city will pay off the $4.4 million still owed using a loan from a city reserve fund devoted to trash collection.

It remains unclear how the city will repay the loan to its solid waste department.

In a 6-1 vote, the council agreed to keep the option of using Conservation Future tax money offered by Spokane County commissioners. The vote means the city has six months to determine if it wants that money. If the city accepts it, the Y must be torn down within seven years to return the land, which borders Spokane Falls, to a natural condition. The six-month delay will allow a study of the best use of the land.

A majority of council members said last week that they wouldn’t rule out selling the land to a private party. Mayor Mary Verner said Monday she prefers the land to remain in public ownership.

Most of the council criticized the Park Board for forcing the city to complete the deal.

“When the time came, they elected not to deal with it,” said City Councilman Mike Allen, noting that the money was not included in a 2007 park bond approved by voters.

Park leaders argue that Conservation Futures is the best solution because it preserves a long-held vision for the park while not having to levy additional taxes. If the council approves the use of the county money, the solid waste reserve fund will be repaid with interest, they say.

Rush cast the lone vote against the proposal, arguing that Conservation Futures money should be used for land already in a natural state.