Once again a consulting study has concluded the best site for a new medium-security Spokane County jail is next to the existing high-security jail.
A “weighted analysis” released Friday lists undeveloped land at the corner of Russell Road and Sprague Avenue in Airway Heights and near the Medical Lake interchange of Interstate 90 as second- and third-best among 10 sites that were considered.
The report was the second in which Integrus Architecture and Jim Kolva Associates have told county commissioners that the courthouse complex is the best choice.
This time, however, the recommendation faces opposition from the downtown business community.
Critics include Betsy Cowles, chairman of Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review, as well as Stephen Pohl, general manager of River Park Square, also owned by the Cowles Co.
Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Downtown Spokane organization, Kiemle & Hagood Co. and NAI Black also argued against the courthouse site, claiming it would drive up costs.
Some, including Cowles and Pohl, also suggest that another jail on the courthouse campus would hurt property values.
“This facility would negatively affect our ability to attract future retailers to River Park Square and the downtown shopping district,” Pohl wrote.
He said a second jail building also would hurt the Kendall Yards mixed-use housing development to be built between the Spokane River and the courthouse campus.
“We hope that you will consider other sites than one within the border of our downtown core and in the West Central neighborhood,” Cowles wrote.
The Kendall Yards project is being developed by Greenstone Corp., which is developing a similar project at Liberty Lake on land owned by Centennial Properties, a Cowles Co. subsidiary.
Cowles said in an interview Friday that Cowles Co. has no financial interest in Kendall Yards.
“Our position is consistent with many other people concerned about the costs of the jail and its location near a neighborhood that’s trying to be revitalized,” Cowles said.
She said it “just doesn’t seem prudent” for a city “that wants to be great” to allow such a facility in its central core.
Greenstone owner Jim Frank said Friday that Cowles Co. has no financial interest “whatsoever” in the Kendall Yards project. He said he was “completely unaware” of Cowles’ comment about the jail project, and “I don’t know that I even share it.”
Frank said a new jail could create economic opportunities for the area, and “we haven’t experienced any adverse impacts from the current jail.”
“We don’t see this as a significant issue for the development of Kendall Yards in the long term,” Frank said. “Nor do we see any significant impact on the adjoining neighborhood.”
Mayors of Airway Heights and Medical Lake, who already have state prisons in their communities, wanted no part of a county jail.
Commissioners chose the courthouse site in May 2008, but ordered a second study when cost estimates were higher than expected.
More recent estimates still show it would cost almost $266 million to build a six-story tower next to the current jail, compared with $229 million for a complex of one-story buildings at Airway Heights or Medical Lake.
But the remote site would cost about $3.2 million a year to operate, while the adjacent tower would cost $2 million a year.
County commissioners tentatively plan a public hearing May 12 to discuss the study results.
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