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Council to buy two buildings for police work, evidence

Wed., June 23, 2010

Mayor Mary Verner won unanimous support Monday for her plan to buy a police evidence warehouse and an office building by borrowing from the city’s main investment fund.

The City Council agreed to purchase the Gardner Building, 1427 W. Gardner Ave., for $1.8 million, and the Great Floors warehouse, 4010 E. Alki Ave., for $2.8 million.

Last year, voters rejected a bond proposal that would have included $11.5 million to build a new evidence facility. Under the new deal, the city will spend $600,000 to upgrade the warehouse. Verner said Monday that she’s hopeful the new evidence building will be functional by the end of the summer. The city already is remodeling the Gardner Building.

In a brief interview before the meeting, Verner called the deal an “elegant solution.”

City officials say they can repay the investment fund with interest, in part, from the savings the city will get by moving the Police Department’s domestic violence and special investigation units out of leased space at Monroe Court, an office building near the Spokane County Courthouse, into the Gardner Building.

“We’re able to secure a property for protection of criminal evidence and be able to move employees from leased space into owned space for a total of far less than we had asked for in the bond,” Verner said.

The plan was criticized earlier this month by former City Councilman Al French, who questioned Verner for buying the Gardner Building at a time when the city is cutting staff.

Spokane police have argued for several years that the evidence building, owned by Spokane County, is full and in need of significant upgrades, including a sprinkler system.

The owner of Monroe Court, Dr. Marcus DeWood, lobbied against the plan and criticized the city’s financial analysis of the deal. DeWood, who has contributed to French’s campaign for county commissioner, offered to cut rent at Monroe Court and to lease the city another building he owns, the former Hostess Bakery, to house police evidence.

The city began leasing the Gardner Building for its new municipal court in late 2008, but instead kept the court at the Public Safety Building, and the structure remained empty. When he still was on the council, French argued that the city should have stopped leasing the space once it became clear that it wouldn’t be used for courts.

Verner said a deal to start using the Gardner Building and to find a police evidence building was delayed partially because French had asked her staff to consider DeWood’s evidence proposal.

The mayor asked Spokane developer Mark Pinch to examine and speak about the plan. Pinch told the City Council Monday night that the proposal was complicated, but sound.

“With sophistication comes confusion,” Pinch said.

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