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Thu., May 1, 2014

Editorial: Hat, wand required for welcome civic investments

Coupling the prospect of no new taxes with ambitious plans to overhaul Riverfront Park and sustainably fund Spokane street upgrades sounds like a magic trick, one Mayor David Condon and other city officials say they can pull off if voters give them the opportunity in November.

In fact, the trick is one homeowners do all the time. That will make the information campaign begun Monday no less difficult. The numbers will be big – possibly $100 million for the park – but so is the vision; one shaped over two years by a variety of community members.

We do not endorse either proposal now – the Spokane City Council has not yet signed off on final plans – but we encourage citizens to pay close attention over the coming months. The park likely to emerge from the planning process will look very different.

Four decades after Expo ’74, there’s no reason to accept as permanent the present design, which conforms roughly to the layout imposed by the fair and its exhibits. The only significant changes in recent years were the addition of the wonderfully whimsical, Harold Balazs-designed Rotary Fountain, and the demolition of the YMCA building.

Meanwhile, the facilities around Ice Palace have fallen into substantial disrepair, the roof of the cramped Looff Carrousel pavilion leaks, and lighting and security are inadequate. The contrast with the new Huntington Park and plaza next to City Hall, which are scheduled to open to the public this week, could not be more stark.

Condon says the 34 cents per $1,000 assessed value now paying off bond issues from 1999 and 2007 could, when refinanced at presumably lower interest rates, cover the park improvements and debt service on the old bonds. It will take a two-thirds vote by the public to approve new bonds.

More information is available at

Passage of a new street levy will take only a majority. Pegged at the existing 57 cents per $1,000, the tax would cover the remaining 16 years of debt service on the $117 million 2004 bond issue that has financed the reconstruction of decrepit streets all over the city. A combination of relatively low interest rates and highly competitive post-2007 bidding enabled the city to get more work done than expected, but a drive up or down the Monroe-Lincoln couplet between Seventh Street and the Monroe Street Bridge underscores how much remains to be done.

Shifting to an ongoing levy from episodic bond issues will allow better planning and, combined with utility and matching state and federal funds, potentially sustain as much as $25 million in street work annually.

The city’s six-year capital plan anticipates the investment of $732 million. Two-thirds will be dedicated to utilities, the rest to streets, parks and public safety equipment. City officials are looking for substantial outside assistance with some of these plans based on the innovative approach they have taken toward solving wastewater and stormwater issues.

More information on those initiatives should be forthcoming over the next few months.

The methodical, realistic but visionary approach officials and volunteers have taken is encouraging. But not complete.

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The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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