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Thu., Feb. 25, 2010

Residential Y site best for treasury, security

With Friday as the deadline to submit proposals for developing Spokane’s former YMCA site, the city may yet salvage a promising opportunity.

If the Spokane Park Board had had its way, the Y building would be demolished and the nearly one-acre property reserved as open space. That would be a mistake, and fortunately, the City Council decided to take another, broader look at the property’s potential.

Given Spokane’s love for Riverfront Park and the river and falls that grace it, the idea of one more vista on the river’s bank has an understandable appeal. If there were a shortage of such vantage points, preservation of this one would be imperative.

But Spokane’s residents and visitors have many convenient places from which to absorb the river’s majesty. What they and the park lack is enough civic activity and lighting to heighten public safety in an area where darkness and solitude can give aid and comfort to unsavory conduct.

At least one of the developers who’s shown an interest in the former Y building envisions a combination of residential units and commercial office space that could supply what’s missing. First, though, city officials need to overcome the kind of aversion to residential uses that seems prevalent among Park Board members.

It was private developer Mark Pinch’s plan to buy the site and erect condos that prompted the board’s blocking maneuver in the first place.

Without question, the choice riverfront location would carry a steep price tag. But city officials could and would insist on ample public access to the river, and developers understand that. Pinch had incorporated such features into his proposal four years ago, and Ron Wells, who has been eyeballing the former Y building, has said the site needs to be accessible to all.

With residential development would come pedestrian movement, round-the-clock illumination and plenty of eyes on the street that would enhance Riverfront Park’s usability, not just for upscale occupants but for the community.

Private development would also bolster Spokane’s property tax base and save the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would cost to tear down the old Y building. Moreover, some $5 million in county Conservation Futures money the Park Board is counting on to pay for the site could be spent more efficiently acquiring much larger and more suitable open spaces elsewhere.

Most communities would welcome an injection of vitality and life in their cores.

Spokane should embrace this opportunity.

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