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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Y funding plan gaining city support

County offering conservation funds

A deal that would pay off the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department’s $4.3 million obligation to finish buying the downtown YMCA appears to have the City Council support it needs to move ahead.

Earlier this week, a divided Spokane County Commission agreed to use Conservation Futures property taxes for the land, which is surrounded by Riverfront Park and adjacent to Spokane Falls. But commissioners stipulated that that deal required the support of the Spokane City Council, which has been lukewarm or colder on the use of the county money.

The council already recommended against the concept in November on a 4-3 vote. On a second vote in December, council members unanimously voted against making a recommendation at all.

But this week, council members Joe Shogan, Bob Apple, Steve Corker and Richard Rush said they support or “are inclined” to support the deal.

Corker is the council member who switched from a “no” vote in November. He said he thought the council last fall had adequate information to make a recommendation on the deal, which was spearheaded by the Spokane Park Board.

Corker said he won’t make a final decision until the Park Board finalizes how the deal will be financed. Although the county has agreed to pay off the Parks Department’s debt, it has declined to pay the money upfront.

Spokane’s chief financial officer said the Park Board is considering borrowing the money from a bank or from the city’s investment pool, which is used for construction projects and other needs.

The Park Board in 2006 put $1 million down on the Y in attempt to block construction of a condo tower in Riverfront Park. But they didn’t have a concrete plan for paying the rest of the money owed.

Rush said he’s inclined to support the plan unless a last-minute deal is found that would result in an environmentally sensitive development in the park.

County participation could be delayed if a suit is filed challenging the commissioners’ decision.

Former Spokane City Councilman Steve Eugster has argued that state law requires Conservation Futures money to be used to purchase open space on the outskirts of urban areas and that buying downtown property already developed is contrary to the rules.

He said Friday that he doesn’t plan to file suit.

Commissioner Todd Mielke said the issue has been vetted by city and county attorneys. He said since half the county’s population lives within the city, it makes sense to buy a property – adjacent to the county’s biggest natural attraction – that would be easily accessible to city dwellers.

But Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said the land likely has a better use with development, such as a restaurant that would provide a view of the falls year-round.

“I just feel that there is a lack of a long-term vision,” she said.

If Conservation Futures is used, the city has agreed to tear down the Y within five years to return the land to a more natural state. In the meantime, the Parks Department plans to maintain the structure as a recreation center.

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