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Officials unveil conservation site where YMCA once stood

After years of controversy surrounding the former YMCA site in Riverfront Park, city and county officials Thursday unveiled the new conservation site where the building once stood.

The site features a 227-foot path bordering the south bank of the Spokane River. It offers viewpoints of the river and north bank cityscape and highlights a stream that ran beneath the Y building. Basalt outcroppings and informational plaques dot the area, as well as newly planted ponderosa pines and other landscaping.

The site, which is about an acre, will remain fenced off throughout the winter. It has not been named as officials want to allow ample time for community feedback.

Mary Cole, the daughter of Expo ’74 visionary King Cole, spoke Thursday, telling the crowd her father’s dream “has come full circle.”

“His strong advocacy for this space … was dad’s last engagement in civic affairs before he passed away last December,” she said in a statement. “This conservation area will always have a special meaning for me and my family.”

Among other speakers were Mayor Mary Verner, Spokane Park Board Director Leroy Eadie, County Commissioner Todd Mielke and Park Board President Ross Kelley.

Verner said many have fond memories of the Y, and tearing it down was “not without some pain,” but doing so will allow Spokane to reconnect with “the heart of the city,” the Spokane River.

“The river and the falls have regained their rightful place as the city’s center point,” she said.

Incorporating the former YMCA land into Riverfront Park was a joint project between the city and county. The county owns the land, but the city will be responsible for maintaining it.

In a move that prompted some public objection, the Spokane Park Board purchased the parcel for $5.3 million in 2006 to prevent the construction of condominiums.

“That took a bold, bold move,” Kelley said. “There was a lot of whining and complaining, but here we are.”

The decision to demolish the vacant building split the City Council, which voted 4-3 in March 2010 to accept Spokane County’s offer to pay the city’s $4.4 million debt to acquire the land using Conservation Futures property taxes. The city made a $1 million down payment on the parcel and the county paid the remaining $3.4 million after receiving a $1 million state grant. Demolition began in February.

Council member Richard Rush, who voted against the deal, said Thursday he felt at the time the “opportunity cost” was too high and Conservation Futures tax dollars could have been used more effectively. The existing building also could have been used for economic development and turned into a park attraction, he said, adding, “It’s a done deal now. I don’t begrudge it.”

“I don’t think it was a bad decision either way,” he said. “But I would have made a different call.”

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