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Mann Center hits a bump

Sat., Sept. 21, 2013

Army stalls site’s redevelopment plan

After three years of the facility sitting vacant, 10 months of “hard work” by city officials and community organizations, and millions of dollars in vandalism, the U.S. Army has once again stalled redevelopment plans at Joe E. Mann Center in Hillyard.

The Spokane City Council, which was acting as the center’s Local Development Authority, worked hundreds of hours to find an appropriate buyer and use for the former Army Reserve property, keeping the federal government in the loop along the way, said Ben Stuckart, council president.

On Aug. 20, the federal agencies involved with the property were supportive of the city’s plans. This week, that changed.

“Out of the blue” the U.S. Army called and basically said, “you’re screwed,” Stuckart said Friday.

On Monday, an Army representive told the city that Spokane would have to pay full market value for the property or the military would sell it at a public auction, Stuckart said.

The U.S. Army did not respond Friday to a request for an interview.

The council “is furious and confused by the actions of the U.S. Army,” Stuckart said. “Their failure to secure the property in the first place led to the school district (Spokane Public Schools) pulling out.”

The U.S. Army has had the Mann Center on its list for disposal since 2005, when officials announced the transfer of the reserve center to Fairchild Air Force Base. In 2010, Spokane Public Schools received authorization to buy the property at 4415 N. Market St.

While waiting for the Army to transfer the property to the U.S. Department of Education so the district could take ownership, the buildings were ravaged by thieves who stole copper wiring and extensively damaged the property. The school district said the Army had been responsible for securing the property.

The district pulled out of the deal earlier this year, and city officials have been working with potential buyers – all government agencies – and the community to determine the appropriate use for the grounds.

The city had three strong proposals and had settled on the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA planned to transfer the property to the Spokane Tribe, Stuckart said. An open-air marketplace would have occupied the parking lot area. One building would have housed manufacturing training, and the other would have housed office space for six or seven organizations.

“Everyone who had seen the plan thought it was great for the community,” he said.

Councilman Mike Fagan said, “Now, after 10 months of hard work by community members, city staff and council members, the U.S. Army has again let Hillyard and the applicants down. It is upsetting that all of this hard work was for nothing.”

Said Councilwoman Amber Waldref, “The individuals we worked with at the Army were very responsive and led us to believe that the options we presented were within our authority.”

After being told Monday of the Army’s decision to dispose of the property, the city tried to get an explanation, Stuckart said. “The U.S. Army representative explained that he could not really explain to us what happened when the approval went to the Under Secretary of the Army,” he said.

Stuckart contacted U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office to seek clarity on the issue. There has been no response so far.

Fagan, who represents Hillyard, said, “This is disappointing. This would have been another jewel of the crown in Hillyard.”

City officials think they could have negotiated a price between $500,000 and $1 million for the property. But city officials’ priority in recent years has been liquidating property, not purchasing it.

The City Council had not considered buying the Mann Center and selling it to the BIA, Fagan said.

“By virtue of the fact that we feel somewhat slighted, and we weren’t even afforded the respect of the explanation,” he said, the City Council decided, “Well fine.”

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