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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

City Council loans Ridpath developer $1.75 million and awards tax breaks

Plans to redevelop the historic Ridpath Hotel into small apartments with affordable monthly rents will have the financial backing of the City of Spokane.

“We hear it everyday: The lack of affordable workforce housing that we have in this community,” said City Councilwoman Karen Stratton said. “We have an opportunity here to stand up, and get a solution going, and it’s the best thing I’ve heard in the last two years.”

When developer Ron Wells closes on the 13-story landmark early next month, he’ll do so with $1.75 million of the city’s money that remains from a now-discontinued federal program aimed at improving affordable housing. The City Council voted 5 to 1 Monday night to extend the line of credit and forgive property taxes on any improvements to the Ridpath for 12 years, estimated to cost the city nearly $551,000 in foregone tax revenue.

Jonathan Mallahan, the city’s director of neighborhood and community services, said public support of the project was necessary given the significant investment needed to bring 214 housing units into the downtown core.

“It really is a part of the city’s role to make sure people have a place to live, and make sure people have access to transportation and other amenities, so this is a perfect spot for housing,” Mallahan said.

If successful, the project would once again open the doors of the Ridpath, which have been closed since 2008. Various plans to restore the building have run into snags, including the involvement of convicted fraudster Greg Jeffreys, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for scams connected to the Ripath and other properties.

Wells, who counts among his downtown restoration projects Steam Plant Square and the Germond Block apartments, plans to include 179 units in the new Ridpath that are targeted to young professionals making less than $30,000 a year, Mallahan said. Those include 102 “micro apartments,” with 249 square feet of living space, rented at $453 a month.

Other offerings, ranging from small studios to two-bedroom lofts, would be rented at monthly rates between $520 and $1,352.

City Councilman Mike Fagan, the only vote against the proposal, pressed Mallahan why the remaining federal loan money was not made available to existing landlords in the city to improve their properties.

“There are tenants who have, obviously, been mired in substandard living conditions for awhile,” Fagan said.

Mallahan said the city had made funds available to landlords through other programs to renovate their properties. The money that will be put forward as a loan by the city is made up of cash that was first loaned out in the 1980s as part of a federal program, then paid back to the city over the following two decades, and has been kept in reserves since then, Mallahan said.

The property tax exemption extended by the council is one of several the panel has handed out in recent years to promote housing in the downtown core. The program has been used in the Kendall Yards development, as well as in the Chronicle and Macy’s building developments being overseen by Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of the Cowles Co., which also publishes The Spokesman-Review.

Mallahan cautioned there was some risk that the city would not receive the full amount of the loan paid back, but based on estimates of the repayment schedule and sales tax generated by a restaurant on the first floor of the Ridpath development, the city anticipates recouping its investment 19 years after the deal goes through.

Gary Pollard, longtime chair of the Riverside neighborhood downtown, urged the council to approve the project.

“I don’t see this as a loan,” Pollard said. “I see it as an investment.”

Wells expects to close on the property May 4, Mallahan said. Construction and leasing is expected to conclude in August 2019.