May 13, 2009 in City

County, city at odds over plan for YMCA

Change would keep building up longer than 5 years
By The Spokesman-Review
 

County commissioners are balking at changes Spokane city officials want to make to a plan to buy the YMCA building in Riverfront Park partly with taxpayers’ money.

Commissioners told city and county parks staff Tuesday they are reluctant to agree to some changes in their offer to use the Conservation Futures fund to pay off bonds to buy the building. The purchase would be a way to prevent it from being turned into condominiums in what many consider an integral part of Riverfront Park.

Under the county’s proposal, the building would have to be demolished in five years, and the land returned to open space. The city is asking to keep the building in place for up to 10 years, and possibly longer if it finds that’s the “highest and best use for the property” and repays the Conservation Futures fund.

“I’m not interested in the Conservation Futures fund being a bridge loan,” Commissioner Mark Richard said, likening the repayment option to a short-term financial arrangement that allows a builder to begin work before more permanent financing is available.

The Spokane City Council has ordered what it calls a due diligence study on the use for the building and the property to determine whether it should accept money from Conservation Futures, a countywide property tax.

Under the terms initially proposed by the county, taking Conservation Futures money would mean the building must come down within five years. But while it remained up, the city had hoped to find a tenant interested in a long-term lease and use some of the rent it collected to pay off bonds or any form of financing the city chooses to raise the $4.4 million needed to buy the property.

Finding a tenant interested in a 10-year lease might be easier than finding one who would have to vacate in five years, city Park Board member Randy Cameron told commissioners. The city has discussed the prospect of renting the building to Spokane-area tribes, who might be able to consolidate services into one place. But they might not want to move in five years.

“They’re our original citizens. If there’s an opportunity to bring them back onto the river, we would endorse that,” Cameron said.

But the city also is proposing that it could keep the building up longer than 10 years or put something else on the property, if it repaid money received from the Conservation Futures.

Conservation Futures money was offered when it looked as though the city had no other option to finance the purchase of the property, Commissioner Bonnie Mager said. Giving the city the ability to change its mind in 10 years, keep the building and repay the Conservation Futures money doesn’t really “make the county whole” because it will have passed up other possible uses for that money in the meantime, she said.

No decisions were made Tuesday. The city’s due diligence study is supposed to be finished in six months. The county is facing a lawsuit over whether it can use Conservation Futures for the building, which may take a year. Commissioners said they’ll work on a counterproposal and schedule a meeting with city officials sometime next week.

Staff writer Jim Camden can be reached at (509) 459-5461 or by e-mail at jimc@spokesman.com.


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