The Spokane Valley City Council voted Tuesday to pay businessman Jack Pring $2.5 million dollars for slightly more than 8 acres at Sprague Avenue and Herald Road across from the old University City Mall.
Washington Appraisal Services Inc., based in Birmingham, Ala., appraised the land at $2,740,000. According to the Spokane County Assessor’s Office, the assessed value of the vacant land is $1,562,360.
Councilman Ben Wick was the only member to vote against the purchase.
The Spokane County Library District approached the city earlier this year with a proposal to purchase the land jointly. The district wants to build a library on the site but couldn’t afford to purchase the entire property, which Pring refused to break up. According to the deal agreed to by the city and the district, the district will buy at least 2.5 acres for a library. The council has discussed expanding the adjacent Balfour Park with its portion of the property.
The two entities will develop a joint site plan over the next year and share the street frontage improvement costs. The library has five years to pass a bond to build the new library or the city will buy back the district’s portion of the land for the same price the district paid for it.
Councilman Arne Woodard said he has been getting questions about the difference between the assessed value of the land and the fair market value. If a property has not sold for many years, which is the case here, the assessed value tends to be much lower than the market value, Woodard said. “The assessed value doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of the fair market value,” he said.
Wick said he wasn’t in favor of spending $2.5 million on the property and said the same property was considered for purchase by the city five years ago. “I’m not saying it’s not a great project,” he said. “I just don’t feel that it’s worth this dollar amount.”
The city hasn’t pursued any other options, including land available right across the street from the Pring property, Wick said.
Woodard said it is “terribly appealing” to expand an undersized park and add a library to the area. Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said citizens complained a couple of years ago that they would like the Pring property to be used to expand Balfour Park rather than have it be a car lot. At the time the city was considering rezoning the property to allow a car lot. The rezone was approved.
“Again, the library approached the city,” Grassel said. “It was not something that we pursued. It’s not going to be a car lot. It will be a park.”
Wick is the only current council member who has not received campaign contributions from Pring, some of whom received more than $1,000. All six have previously stated that they believe they can be fair and impartial despite receiving money from Pring.
“I would like to request that we acknowledge the campaign contributions from council members that are voting tonight,” Wick said.
“I disclosed originally,” Woodard said.
“But we are taking action,” Wick said.
“I would be highly insulted to think that a $300 campaign contribution would taint my vote on anything to do with Mr. Pring,” Woodard said.
“This is a road we’ve gone through in the past,” Councilman Chuck Hafner said. “I stand by what I said previously.”
The city will pay for the property using money from its civic facilities capital projects fund. The fund, which had a nearly $5 million balance in 2010, was originally set up to pay for a future city hall but has been used for various other projects. Spending $2.5 million to purchase the property on Sprague Avenue will drop the balance to $500,000.
City Finance Director Mark Calhoun said he will recommend that the $744,047 the city will receive from the library district for its share of the property be set aside and not spent until the district attempts to pass its construction bond. If the bond fails the city will need that money to buy the land back from the district.