Spokane City Hall and county leaders have agreed to put aside land squabbles to pursue greater economic opportunities at the Spokane International Airport.
Both governments this week approved a 20-year agreement to share tax revenue generated within boundaries drawn around the regional transportation and economic hub on the West Plains. The money will be governed by a new public body, called a public development authority, that will be able to take on debt and direct grant spending toward roads, water and other needs to build the airport’s economic vitality.
Spokane Mayor David Condon called the agreement a “historic partnership” at an announcement Monday at the airport attended by lawmakers at the city, county and state level, as well as airport officials. County Commissioner Al French said the compact showed that governments on both sides of the Spokane River could put aside differences to pursue common economic goals.
“In the past, this competition has been of an attitude of, if you win, I lose,” French said. “Today, we’re looking to change that paradigm.”
The agreement, borne of conversations that started between city, county and airport officials more than five years ago, calls for the three entities that jointly operate the airport to put 75 percent of the tax revenue generated by improvements and new businesses in the geographic area into the same collective pool beginning in 2019. That money could then be used to build up infrastructure, market the airport for future economic growth and recruit businesses in the aerospace and manufacturing sectors, Condon said.
“The number one issue is infrastructure, to build off the biggest piece of infrastructure the city and county own together – the airport,” the mayor said.
That includes roads, utilities and railroad lines. French and others praised the Washington state Legislature for including in the transportation budget passed this year $2 million to build new rail lines on the western edge of the airport property, which will enable a rail loop that can deliver and ship goods produced on-site.
“They’re into preliminary design. They’re moving forward,” said French, pointing to the currently vacant portions of the map off Hayford Road. “Ultimately, if you take this in here and circle around, then you’ve got a loop track. Then you just start filling in.”
Businesses choosing to locate within the area identified would receive discounted utility rates from the city and have access to incentive packages proffered by both the city and the county. City Council President Ben Stuckart said the agreement showed the city and county were spending wisely to ensure future economic development, which would attract businesses.
Stuckart pointed to the recent announcement, first reported by the Spokane Journal of Business, that Progress Rail, a locomotive manufacturer, has purchased 39 acres in a Spokane Valley industrial park, and another company, Katerra Inc., was interested in purchasing land in the park, too. .
“They had actually looked at the airport. But imagine if we had the infrastructure in place and weren’t saying we’ll eventually have a rail line. We’ll have roads and sewer and water lines, eventually, and please just pray with us that in six years we’ll get those funded and put in,” Stuckart said.
K. Collins Sprague, vice chairman of the Spokane Airport Board, said the facility already generates $725 million in economic development for the region, and it will only grow with the new partnership.
Rick Romero, the former city utilities director who has rejoined City Hall to oversee projects spanning multiple departments like the public development authority, said the agreement between the city, county and airport is the first of its kind in the region. Public development authorities have been established in the University District and Hillyard to promote development in those areas of the city, but do not include membership determined by both local governments.
“I’m not sure there’s anyone else that’s done it,” Romero said.
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