A divided Spokane Park Board brought the future of amusement rides in Riverfront Park back from the dead Thursday, but thrill-seekers shouldn’t expect the Dragon Coaster to make a return.
The panel voted 7 to 3 in favor of a resolution brought by Chris Wright calling for a feasibility study of returning rides to the park’s north bank, due at the beginning of September to coincide with design of a regional playground. Wright said before the vote that he was against having rides in the park, and several board members said they didn’t want to see the rides that once spun and thrilled beneath the U.S. Pavilion to return to a rebuilt Riverfront Park.
“I don’t want old-looking rides in our new park,” Wright said.
The resolution was changed to eliminate the possibility of returning the old rides, which remain in storage, into use at the park.
A contingent of ride supporters, led by former Riverfront Park Director Hal McGlathery, petitioned the Park Board to revisit a previous decision to sell off all but three of the amusement rides. Among them was 10-year-old Tyler Parke, a Shiloh Hills Elementary School student, who said their return would be ideal for parkgoers his age.
“I have a lot of good-feeling moments there, that I think other little kids should have,” Parke told board members. “One of my favorite rides there was the Dragon Coaster.”
Amusement rides were written out of a 2014 study that was used to pitch a $64 million bond issue to voters. That study indicated that the rides had become too costly to maintain and were generating too little in revenue, but McGlathery and a nonprofit group continued to argue rides could be a money-maker that gives low-income families the opportunity for thrills at discounted prices.
Jon Moog, the current director of Riverfront Park, said he would produce a study of the costs and benefits of returning the rides on his own, without $25,000 in additional park reserves to hire a consultant that had been proposed. But Moog made it known he didn’t believe rides would be financially feasible.
“If we open a new rides complex, we are competing against Triple Play. We’ll be competing against Silverwood,” Moog said.
City Councilman Mike Fagan said he believed rides were needed to capture the attention of youngsters in the park, who may not have the same appreciation for views of the river that have driven park planners’ vision for the downtown attraction’s future.
“They’re not going to be too awful interested in standing on a platform over at the Pavilion,” Fagan said. “They’re going to drive you nuts if you don’t give them something to do to occupy their time.”
Park Board President Nick Sumner, and board members Ted McGregor and Sally Lodato voted against the resolution. They noted the board hadn’t yet seen a design for the regional playground on the park’s north bank, which could address a lack of entertainment options for children.
“Playgrounds are free. They’re going to be free fun for the kids, free areas for the kids to hang out, for families to hang out,” Sumner said.
Staff also said the city had reached out to different firms to design the regional playground on the north bank. The requests didn’t include consideration of a space for rides, which the resolution presumes will be located in the same area.
The Park Board requested a study be completed by Sept. 1, with a final decision on the future of the rides likely to quickly follow.