February 11, 2012 in Washington Voices

Development discussed

Council wants to lead discussions with community groups on economic goals
By The Spokesman-Review
Eight-acre site plan in talks

 The City Council briefly discussed a recent proposal made by the Spokane County Library District to jointly buy an 8-acre parcel across from the old University City. The district would like to use half of the site for a future library branch, but property owner Jack Pring has refused to divide the lot. The proposal calls for the two entities to buy the site and the city would get 4 acres to expand the adjacent Balfour Park.

 Pring contributed money to the election and/or re-election campaigns of every current council member except Ben Wick. Councilman Chuck Hafner also worked for Pring for several years after he retired as a school superintendent.

City Manager Mike Jackson said he has been meeting with library representatives to discuss the proposal, including the possibility of having a shared parking lot. “We’re not seeing any big road blocks right now,” he said.

 The biggest unknown is whether the library’s bond measure, tentatively scheduled for 2015, will pass, Jackson said. It is likely the city would purchase the entire 8 acres, then enter into an agreement that the library could use half the land in exchange for between $500,000 and $700,000. “We could work all of that out in an interlocal,” he said.

 Parks and Recreation Director Mike Stone said the city might be able to get a grant for a portion of the purchase price, but it would be hard to do that quickly.

 “I don’t think it’s a project you can wait for state funding on,” Councilman Dean Grafos said. “I think this is kind of a one-time opportunity. I’d like to see us move ahead with this as soon as possible.”

Economic development, and the role of City Hall, was also a large part of the discusion at the council’s retreat.

Councilman Ben Wick said the city should sit down with the various groups that also work on economic development like the local chambers of commerce. “I’d like to see us kind of provide that leadership,” he said.

Mayor Tom Towey said the groups don’t really collaborate on their efforts. “I think we would be strong in the region if they all worked together,” he said.

Council members agreed that Wick and Councilwoman Brenda Grassel would meet with the city manager and community development director to come up with a list of community groups to include in the task force and outline the goals of the group. “We’ve got to move forward,” Grassel said.

Part of the discussion centered around the city’s plans to create a new building permit center in City Hall rather than having a separate office in a strip mall next door. The plan hinged on a first floor tenant moving elsewhere in the building, but that won’t be happening, said Community Development Director John Hohman. “At this point we’re looking at options,” he said.

The plan, which would include moving walls and creating a new public counter, would cost an estimated $200,000. The city’s lease on its City Hall space ends in March 2013 and City Manager Mike Jackson questioned whether the city should spend that much now or start looking for a new home. “Do we start to look now?” Jackson said. “It’s coming up on us pretty fast. We’re going to have to make a decision.”

Several council members said they had no interest in buying a new city hall “tomorrow” but said the city should begin evaluating its options. “I don’t know that it’s going to get any cheaper than it is now,” Wick said.

Grassel agreed that the city should investigate. “I think at some point you are going to need your own building,” she said.

“I think it has to be along Sprague or not very far off Sprague on one of the side streets,” Woodard said.

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