The extension of the Centennial Trail through Kendall Yards matches the century-old goal of city leaders to showcase the Spokane River Gorge.
But it also highlights the tight budget of Spokane’s park system.
The Spokane Park Board last week completed months of deliberations with Greenstone Corp., which is developing Kendall Yards. The park board agreed to buy 2.73 acres between the river and trail for the $2 million it won in a state grant. Greenstone agreed to turn over 0.85 acres that will become a long-awaited extension of the trail.
But park leaders said they were uninterested in other open spaces being built at Kendall Yards. That includes a public plaza and a park named after Olmsted Brothers – the celebrated landscape architecture firm that drafted the 1908 plan that became the basis for many of the city’s parks.
Greenstone CEO Jim Frank said the city’s refusal to accept the new park means it will be owned privately. He said he can’t promise it always will be open to the public unless it is owned publicly.
“In a way I found it shocking because you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire this land at no cost,” Frank said. “We as developers don’t want to restrict public access, but the problem is, it’s going to be owned long-term by the homeowners’ association.”
Park Board President Randy Cameron said park leaders understand the importance of expanding the trail and the Olmsted Brothers Gorge Park concept. But the department can’t afford to take on bigger maintenance bills.
“Anything broader than that, we just don’t have the budget to expand and maintain more properties,” Cameron said. “If you look at the shortfalls, we just can’t economically take on more.”
Spokane City Councilman Steve Salvatori, who represents northwest Spokane, said he understands the Park Board’s reluctance to accept more property, but given the plan for more than 1,000 new residential units, there will be a need for a community park in that part of the West Central neighborhood.
He pointed to the Olmsteds’ strong support for public parks.
“I think Olmsted would turn over in his grave about a lost opportunity,” he said.
The Olmsted report for Spokane was crafted in part by John Charles Olmsted, the stepson of Frederick Law Olmsted, who co-designed Central Park in New York City. The Spokane plan stresses the importance of public parks.
Such spaces are beautiful as well as “very important aids to the improvement and preservation of the health of the people,” the Olmsted report to the Spokane Park Board said.
But it’s hard to say how the Olmsted brothers would judge the current situation, said Ethan Carr, board chairman of the National Association for Olmsted Parks. Times have changed and partnerships between the private and public sectors are now an important part of creating park space, he said.
“The ‘what would Olmsted do’ question is very hard to answer” in terms of public-private partnerships, said Carr, an associate landscape architect and regional planning professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Spokane’s parks budget was trimmed by $1.1 million for 2013. Parks director Leroy Eadie said it’s too early to say if there will be another shortfall for 2014. But if there is one, he expects it to be less severe.
He said he was never presented with a formal proposal to acquire the park within Kendall Yards. Eadie wouldn’t rule out acquiring it in the future, but he noted that the department is operating under recently adopted guidelines that call for leadership to focus on assets it already owns.
Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder said he’s sympathetic to the park department’s budget woes but believes a creative maintenance plan could be crafted to ease the financial burden.
“I don’t think privately owned parks are a preferable option,” Snyder said. “There must be some way to figure it out.”