Spokane County and Airway Heights officials will meet this month to discuss a regional sports park on the Spokane County Raceway Park grounds.
It’s a goal the two governments have shared since then-Mayor Matthew Pederson encouraged county commissioners to buy the raceway in 2008.
“We’re extremely interested in making sure the sports complex is successful,” County Commission Chairman Mark Richard said.
However, the parties may have to dance carefully around an 800-pound gorilla: the county’s need to build a new jail.
Several of 10 proposed locations are in the West Plains, and one highly rated property adjoins the sports park site. The potential jail site is just across Sprague Avenue from the state’s Airway Heights Corrections Center.
Current Mayor Patrick Rushing said city officials are determined not to have another correctional facility in Airway Heights – especially not one that would be filled mostly with inmates from the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley.
Richard said commissioners have “no intention of ignoring their very legitimate concerns,” but he hopes Airway Heights officials appreciate the difficulty of building an affordable jail no one wants.
“I’m not looking for any sort of quid pro quo on this,” Richard said. “But we took a significant risk in acquiring this (raceway park) real estate, and a lot of it depended on the encouragement we got from Airway Heights.”
If not for the county’s commitment to the regional sports park, that land could be used for a jail. There would be no need to buy land from Central Pre-Mix to build a jail next to the raceway park.
No decision has been made on which of the 10 possible jail sites to choose.
Nonetheless, the proposed complex of baseball, soccer or other sports fields is “one of the cornerstones” of commissioners’ decision to buy the raceway at auction for $4.3 million, Richard said.
Commissioners wanted to preserve the track for recreational uses that could attract visitors to the county. Airway Heights officials saw the raceway park’s undeveloped land as the key to a more conventional park.
But commissioners have been embroiled in difficulties with the raceway’s management, and Airway Heights has chosen a new mayor and hired a new city manager.
Rushing, who was sworn in last month as mayor, shares his predecessor’s interest in a sports park. Previous discussions seem murky, though, and officials on both sides want more clarity as they move forward.
For example, what was meant when Pederson offered in April 2008 to ask the City Council to impose an admission tax with the revenue pledged to “support and enhance the entertainment and recreational use of that (raceway) property”?
Richard said he thought that meant all the proceeds from the tax would go to the county to help repay bonds used to buy the raceway. Pederson estimated the tax could generate up to $60,000 a year.
In October, Pederson proposed to apply the tax to the purchase of approximately 101 acres at a proposed price of $13,750 per acre – a total of nearly $1.4 million.
Pederson suggested the city take 20 years to complete the purchase, or longer if the admissions tax fell short.
County commissioners recently countered that the city should complete the purchase in 20 years regardless of the admissions tax. Commissioners would sell 70 acres and hold back 31 until they are sure the extra land isn’t needed for the raceway.
Through Parks Director Doug Chase, commissioners suggested the city and county split the admissions tax “in perpetuity.” Each side would apply the money to the raceway park or the sports park for debt service or development of the facilities.
City officials hope to cover part of the sports park purchase price with in-kind contributions, such as a discounted hookup to the municipal water system.
County commissioners are open to that but want to make sure the hookup isn’t valued at a rate they say ordinarily is about five times what the city of Spokane charges.
As part of the deal, Airway Heights officials hope the county will irrigate raceway park land with water from the sewage treatment plant the city is building.
“That only makes sense,” Rushing said. “We’re looking at up to a million gallons of treated water that we have to put somewhere.”
And so it goes as the officials try to hammer out a deal.
Both Richard and Rushing stressed their willingness to do what it takes to strike a bargain.
“In order to reach a common goal, we’ve got to compromise,” Rushing said.