River Park Square moved ahead Mon day despite efforts by critics bent on derailing the downtown redevelopment project.
Spokane City Council members approved by a 5-1 vote a pre-construction agreement that outlines conditions for permits, skywalk relocations, design review and more.
The council unanimously approved vacating two sections of downtown streets to the developers: Post Street between Spokane Falls Boulevard and Main; and a portion of the alley between Post and Wall.
The $100 million redevelopment of River Park Square will include a new Nordstrom store, a multiscreen cinema, an open-air atrium, and other shops and restaurants.
Hours before the council meeting, a citizens group called for state and county investigations into the city’s relationship with project developers.
John Talbott, president of Citizens Putting Priorities First, questioned why the council would vacate Post Street, then lease the land back at a higher rate.
“We need to know exactly who profits from such a sweetheart deal,” Talbott said in a written statement. “The people of Spokane are entitled to know if any laws have been broken.”
The developer is paying the city $430,000 for vacating Post. That’s half the land’s assessed value, which is the amount state law requires a buyer to pay in such a situation.
River Park Square developers plan to renovate and expand their current parking garage onto a vacated Post. The garage then will be purchased with $26 million in revenue bonds floated by a nonprofit corporation formed by the development’s owners.
The garage and the land it sits on then will be leased to a public development authority created by the city. When the bonds are retired, using parking garage revenues, the city will own the garage but continue to rent the land it sits on.
Talbott called for investigations by the county prosecutor, state attorney general and state auditor.
Attorney Duane Swinton, representing the owners of River Park Square, dismissed Talbott’s concerns. “The (lease) value is based on the fact there will be a parking garage generating a huge improvement for downtown,” he said. “There’s always a huge difference between assessed value and market value.”
The allegations of impropriety irked City Manager Bill Pupo. “All of the actions the council has taken (regarding River Park Square) have been public actions, under the scrutiny of the public,” he said. “It’s unfortunate those kinds of accusations are being made.”
Among other things, the pre-construction agreement requires:
The developers to submit publicly accessible parts of the project to the city’s design review committee for comment.
The city to “fast-track” necessary construction permits.
The city to approve permits regardless of whether the Lincoln Street bridge is built.
The city to let the developers relocate the skywalk that runs from River Park Square to Burlington Coat Factory.
The developers also can change the skywalk that links the shopping center to the Spokane Public Library.
Attorney Steve Eugster raised concerns about where the skywalks would be moved to, especially one linking the shopping center to the library.
“Are we going to walk people right into a parking garage? Are we going to have a diagonal skywalk?” he asked.
Swinton said plans call for the skywalk to link the library to the new Nordstrom, which means the sky bridge will remain a straight shot.
During the meeting, Talbott asked the council about the future of the Lincoln Street bridge and was assured by Mayor Jack Geraghty the project was moving forward. Talbott didn’t mention his afternoon press release.
Janelle Fallon of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce urged the council to approve the River Park Square project. “A great community doesn’t just happen,” she said.
Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers cast the lone dissenting vote against the pre-construction agreement, saying she would like to see more design review of the project.
River Park Square is owned by Citizens Realty Co. and Lincoln Investment Co., affiliates of Cowles Publishing Co, which owns The Spokesman-Review.
In his written statement, Talbott blasted the newspaper for failing to investigate the redevelopment project.
“If any other developer was proposing this kind of financial dealing with the city, The Spokesman-Review would be writing award-winning articles exposing these backroom deals,” Talbott said.
Chris Peck, editor of The Spokesman-Review, said the paper has worked hard to provide balanced coverage of River Park Square.
“Editors of this newspaper are encouraged to bring their best judgment to bear on covering the news without interference from anyone,” Peck said.
“I have reviewed coverage of the River Park Square development, and I am satisfied the issues raised by opponents and supporters alike have been reported.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.