Recently, articles in this newspaper and other publications have raised legitimate questions about the progress of the redevelopment of Riverfront Park following the voters’ approval of a $64.3 million bond in November 2014.
Frankly, the scope and complexity of this project were far greater than the Park Board and Parks and Recreation staff could have imagined. Our early desire to “hit the ground running” on this project was met with the cold, hard reality that we first needed to assemble a lot more resources to get this project done right and on budget. Just coming to that realization, and getting those resources together, cost us many months.
That’s the bad news. But before we share the good news, it is important to put this project in perspective.
Think of it: Riverfront Park is nearly 100 acres large and full of infrastructure that is more than 40 years old, and some of it built nearly a century ago. In November 2014 we did not have a complete picture of the condition of the park’s bridges, its utility infrastructure and power needs, its geology and the level of contaminated dirt, and the myriad of other variables that create construction challenges.
We expected some challenges, especially with respect to environmental compliance and regulations governing work in or near the river itself (most of which were not in place when the Expo ’74 grounds were built). Yet it is only in the past year that the full measure of those challenges has begun to emerge. As they have emerged we have brought on personnel and consulting firms to address them head-on. We now have a much more realistic view of the time it will take to complete the project.
Meanwhile, we are committed to ensuring everything promised to voters in the bond will be accomplished within the $64.3 million budget. Voters were promised a new ice recreation area, new Looff Carrousel building, repurposed and dramatic Pavilion, regional playground and distinctive north-south promenade.
The 2014 bond was a refinance of existing debt and kept the tax rate down. To leverage bond dollars and provide expanded features, we have been aggressively pursuing grants and are studying private funding opportunities for additions to those features, as well as artwork, a wheels park and a Clocktower staircase – all items that were not funded by the 2014 bond.
Redeveloping Riverfront Park the right way means staying within budget, involving the community in design decisions and proceeding on an aggressive construction schedule, all while keeping the park accessible during construction. Often those objectives work against one another. We are committed to remaining transparent about the challenges, opportunities and timeline projections, and we always welcome citizen feedback and ideas to improve our efforts.
The good news is citizens will soon notice evidence of construction. Contractors will begin fencing off a large portion of the southern part of the park near the Bloomsday runners, SkyRide, Rotary Fountain and South Howard Street Bridge. In July, construction on the Riverfront Park redevelopment will break ground. We’ll then begin demolition and construction of the South Howard Street Bridge (just north of the Rotary Fountain), and soon after, begin construction of the ice ribbon recreational rink and SkyRide building. In Spring 2017, we plan to break ground on a new building for the beloved Looff Carrousel.
All the while we expect most of the attractions in the park will remain open, including the SkyRide, and we will continue to accommodate large events such as Hoopfest, the 4th of July Weekend Celebration, Pig Out in the Park and the Chinese Lantern Festival, which is expected back again this fall.
The official groundbreaking is scheduled for Friday, July 8, from 3-8 p.m. We’re kicking off construction with a celebration – large-scale paint-by-numbers renderings of Riverfront, a 30-ton sandbox, food trucks, live music and vision boards of the new park. We hope everyone will join us for the festivities.
Chris Wright is president of the Spokane Park Board. Leroy Eadie is the director of Spokane Parks and Recreation.
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