A former Spokane city councilman wants a popular vote on whether the U.S. Pavilion in Riverfront Park should be covered, preferably by November.
But the current City Council, which would have to move quickly to approve the measure and bypass the traditional signature-gathering period, signaled Monday an almost impossible path to the ballot box so soon.
Steve Eugster, the architect of several successful and unsuccessful attempts to change the city’s charter, sent an initiative to City Hall on Monday calling for a popular vote on whether the centerpiece of Riverfront Park should be resheathed.
“I’d like to see how the council members line up,” Eugster said in an interview Monday. “I’d like to see how much interest there is.”
A majority of those members said Monday they want to see the signatures of support for Eugster’s proposal before putting it on the ballot, all but killing the possibility voters will decide the question this fall. Construction is scheduled to begin on the Pavilion renovation in October.
City Council President Ben Stuckart has already been brainstorming ways to alter the authority of the Park Board, the entity in charge of the park’s $64.3 million, taxpayer-funded renovation. Stuckart has also been critical of early designs that feature an uncovered Pavilion, arguing that plan ignores the images of a covered structure used to sell to voters the bond measure funding the redevelopment in 2014.
Stuckart was out of town Monday on city business and did not respond to a phone message seeking comment. But City Councilman Mike Fagan, who sits on the Park Board, was blunt in his assessment of whether the issue could be before voters this fall.
“There’s no way in hell that it would go without (Eugster) getting signatures,” Fagan said. “At the end of the day, the council would probably want him to go get the signatures.”
Eugster said he was prepared to do that, but the deadline has already passed for signature submissions to appear on this year’s ballot. The next opportunity would be submission on Sept. 18 for a vote in the February special election. Eugster’s initiative would need 7,575 verified signatures in support of the petition for that to happen. The vote would also occur four months after construction is scheduled to begin on the Pavilion.
Eugster’s proposal would amend the city charter, calling for the building to be “repaired and improved so that a new canopy can be installed, the new canopy shall be made of material lasting longer than canvas.” The previous covering, installed for Expo ’74, ripped several times before being torn off in February 1979.
An amendment to the city charter requires a majority vote by the city’s residents. Unlike other initiatives that only seek to change municipal laws, the City Council could not pass the measure as written without going to the ballot.
City Councilwoman Amber Waldref also said she’d want to see signatures before putting the issue on the ballot.
“My initial reaction is that it’s really prescriptive,” Waldref said Monday of the initiative. She said if approved the measure could put taxpayers on the hook for continued maintenance for years after the bond money had been spent.
City Councilwomen Karen Stratton and Candace Mumm agreed. City Councilman Breean Beggs said he was still reviewing the proposal Monday and wouldn’t say whether he’d vote to put it on the ballot. Beggs said he generally favored public votes on major issues, but hadn’t looked at the legality of Eugster’s proposal. Mumm also said she didn’t know if the proposal would stand up to legal scrutiny.
The initiative also calls for the return of an ice skating rink within the Pavilion. Park planners have moved away from that concept. An ice ribbon is being built on the southwest corner of the park that is being sold as a multiuse facility potentially accommodating farmers markets or attractions such as roller skating and amusement rides during warmer months.
Fagan said the inclusion of the skating rink also gave him pause on support for the measure.
“How can we go back and deal with that at this particular point?” Fagan said.
The design team in charge of developing the plan for the structure, on a construction budget of $14.5 million, is scheduled to deliver a final design to the Park Board in September, several weeks before a vote could take place. Stuckart has suggested putting the design process on pause while the public weighs in.
Spokane’s legal department has already begun review of Eugster’s initiative, said Mike Piccolo of the city attorney’s office. Piccolo said a review, which is allowed to take up to two weeks under city law, could be achieved in time for the council to consider Eugster’s request.
“It is a pretty tight time frame,” Piccolo said.
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