Support appears to have grown on the Spokane City Council to bring open space to the site of the downtown YMCA.
A slight majority said this week that they lean in favor of accepting county Conservation Futures money to reserve the land for Riverfront Park.
But the council won’t vote until March 29, and council members say it’s too early to predict an outcome given the ever-changing debate.
“It’s going to be one of those votes where we won’t know where it stands until the vote is taken on the dais,” City Councilman Steve Corker said earlier this month. “I wouldn’t put a dollar on the table.”
Twice last year, park officials expected the council to support Conservation Futures, and both times the City Council delayed a decision to pursue private development for the property.
City Councilwoman Amber Waldref said she believes open space is the best option for the land and that Conservation Futures money is a legitimate way to preserve views of Spokane Falls.
She joins Corker, Council President Joe Shogan and Councilman Bob Apple, who say they lean in favor of Conservation Futures, a county program that collects property taxes to preserve open space.
Council members Richard Rush and Jon Snyder argue that the Conservation Futures money that would be spent to buy the Y could be used to buy 1,000 acres or more in a more natural state elsewhere. Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin has argued in the past that the land should be used to build an attraction.
The Spokane Park Board put down $1 million to buy the YMCA in 2006 to prevent the land from being sold to a developer who proposed to build condos on the site, which is surrounded by the park. In 2008, park leaders won support from the county park board to use Conservation Futures to pay off the remaining $4.3 million on the building, but the Spokane City Council has blocked that effort.
County commissioners say their offer will be off the table April 1.
If the city accepts the county money, the Y would have to be torn down and the property converted to a natural condition.
Late last month, an online movement advocating the use of the YMCA for an aquarium sprouted on Facebook. Since it started less than a month ago, the “Spokane aquarium” page on Facebook has gained more than 3,300 fans – more than any local TV station or newspaper.
Erik Nelson, a computer animation producer for children’s television who lives in Spokane, started the page. He said in an e-mail interview that after researching the topic, he’s discovered that the YMCA building couldn’t support the weight needed for an aquarium, and the land holds too many restrictions and parking problems.
“The property should be part of a reclamation project to return it to as close to its natural state as possible,” he said.
But Nelson said he’s serious about building an aquarium in Spokane.
“The site of the current YMCA building is a rally point,” Nelson said. “We are looking at other sites that show great potential and are in the process of vetting them. We are also looking at what the appropriate size of the aquarium should be that would meet the needs of the Inland Empire.”
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