After a shaky start plagued by cost overruns, unexpected expenses and criticism from within, those in charge of the massive redevelopment of Riverfront Park say they’re on firm footing heading into 2017.
“It feels a little bit like we were learning how to ride a bike, at least from my perspective,” said Ted McGregor, publisher of the Inlander and chairman of the committee overseeing the park’s $64 million renovation. “I think we’re riding our bike pretty good right now. At the beginning of this year, we skinned our knees a bit and went over the handlebars a few times.”
Park planners received the go-ahead last week from a state agency to move forward with combining the design and construction of a new pavilion, a strategy planners say will avoid cost overruns on design that occurred with the new ice ribbon feature to be constructed next year. The pavilion is expected to cost a little less than a third of the bond approved by voters in 2014. The Riverfront Park subcommittee also approved a budget that shifts funds from improvements on Canada Island and the meadow surrounding the Radio Flyer wagon slide to focus on attractions and improvements promised to voters two years ago.
Those changes will need to be approved by the full Park Board, which is scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council Chambers.
The developments delighted Hal McGlathery, the previous Riverfront Park manager who had been skeptical of the project and led a contingency of activists pushing for preservation of attractions for low-income families.
“They’ve got a team together that’s really starting to shine,” said McGlathery, who headed park operations from 1982 to 1996.
The year began with concerns about more costly bridge replacements in the park eating up a potentially greater pot of money than anticipated, followed by expenses for soil cleanup and archaeological work in the historically significant 100-acre park constructed for Expo ’74. The issues prompted former Park Board president Randy Cameron to voice concerns at the time that there wouldn’t be enough money to complete the promised amenities: a new SkyRide, ice rink, pavilion, playground and upgrades to the Looff Carrousel.
The budget changes are just the latest in a series of adjustments to the park’s spending plan, what Parks Director Leroy Eadie called “a living budget.”
“I think, as the project goes along, you’ll have less and less of this,” Eadie told board members Monday.
Park Board members in charge of reviewing the department’s finances approved a bid by Contractors Northwest, Inc., of Coeur d’Alene, to build the new ice ribbon. The contract totals $7.4 million with sales tax, which is about $140,000 above the budgeted construction amount but within contingencies built into the total spending plan for the structure, said Eadie, and will not affect the amount available for other amenities in the park.
Contractors Northwest is overseeing work at McEuen Park, a $14 million redevelopment in downtown Coeur d’Alene.
Not all of the money questions have been resolved. Pending Park Board approval, the city will apply for three cleanup grants after declaring the park an environmentally contaminated site, or “brownfield,” a potential $600,000 that is not guaranteed. The board is also planning on launching a private fundraising campaign early next year, McGregor said, to pay for additional amenities that have since been removed from the project’s budget. One of those items was a planned maintenance and operations facility, at an estimated cost of up to $2 million.
Ross Kelley, former Spokane County engineer and Park Board member, urged his colleagues not to overlook the need for a maintenance center.
“You can’t just do this in a closet someplace,” Kelley said. “We’re going to need a lot of room to put stuff in.”
Current Riverfront Park Director Jon Moog said his staff was exploring “decentralizing” some of the maintenance equipment in the park, which could speed up response times to issues in a particular area. A maintenance area could also be part of the design for the pavilion, staff said.
The city successfully argued for a combined design and construction process for the new pavilion, which is currently budgeted to cost around $19.5 million, according to the spending plan approved Monday. Park Board President Chris Wright said the presentation – made with a new leadership team in place consisting of Berry Ellison, program manager, and Matt Walker, a consultant with the firm Hill International – was “a completely different experience” than last summer, when the same commission rejected plans for one firm to oversee design and construction throughout the park.
The pavilion is tentatively scheduled to open in March 2019. The city may move forward now with soliciting bids to oversee the design and construction of the new facility.
Moog also shared some good news for McGlathery, who has campaigned for the park to retain the amusement rides purchased during his time with the city, the future of which isn’t assured in the new park’s layout. According to park figures, ridership was up 33 percent in 2016 compared to the year before. McGregor said he and Moog were meeting with McGlathery to discuss a future for the rides in the park.
“We’re not in a vacuum here,” McGregor said.
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