Seeking to quell any more criticism over the handling of city money going toward the Davenport Grand Hotel, Spokane Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart announced Monday the creation of a program that would offer city incentives to developers in a “uniform and transparent way.”
Condon noted that discussion for such a program has been happening at the city for a couple of years, but the issue came to the fore when the City Council pushed back against Condon’s informal agreement in 2013 offering Walt Worthy up to $2 million for environmental cleanup at his new hotel. Earlier this year, Worthy asked for $318,000 for pollution mitigation.
“As the discussion we’ve had about the Grand Hotel and other projects has shown us, there’s a need to solidify the policy around how we evaluate future projects,” Condon said.
Worthy told the City Council on Monday that there were no “backroom deals” between him and Condon.
He pointed to letters sent to Condon and Stuckart that outlined the incentives sought from the city.
Worthy refuted comments made by former Council President Joe Shogan, who said last week the incentive money was an “illegal gift.”
The incentive program will go much further, Condon said, by encouraging “economic investment in our city and by extension creating jobs.”
“We are building a framework to introduce the kind of certainty that businesses and job creators desire when making a decision to invest in our city,” he said. “It also gives us and our citizens a consistent and transparent way to evaluate projects.”
Details about the program were short, except that a “work group” to develop the policy would likely report its suggestions next month. Members of the group include Condon, Stuckart, Business and Developer Services interim Director Scott Simmons, city Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley, Public Works Director Rick Romero, Councilman Mike Allen, and James Richman, a city attorney.
Stuckart put his support behind the program, saying a “unified vision” at the city would get “great things done.”
“The next step is economic policy. Now is the time for us to collectively as a city move that policy forward,” he said. “Not only do we need to raise the median income so that everybody in Spokane has more, for the long term health of our city, we need a long-term economic strategy we can move forward with for the next four years.”
Condon said creating such a policy was important to keep drawing large projects to the city, pointing to $850 million in private projects that have been permitted or completed in the past two years. He said such projects contribute to property taxes, utility rates and sales tax, the three prime sources of revenue for the city.
“Private commercial development delivers revenue in all three categories,” he said.
Brian Coddington, the city’s spokesman, said the incentive framework would likely culminate in a points-based system, where proposed projects would be ranked according to how many jobs it would create, the size of investment and the potential public benefit.
The City Council would retain its approval power for any city expenditures of more than $50,000.
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