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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Future of Riverfront Park amusement rides up for vote next week

UPDATED: Thu., May 4, 2017

The fate of the amusement rides that filled Riverfront Park’s pavilion for decades could become clear next week when city decision makers will vote whether to sell them.

Removal of the attractions was recommended in a 2014 park master plan prepared in advance of a public vote that set aside $64 million to re-imagine the 100-acre park built for Expo ’74, citing their age and dwindling revenue from park users.

In the months since that vote, former Riverfront Park Director Hal McGlathery has led an effort to retain the 13 rides, which he said are an affordable alternative for residents who can’t take summer vacations to far-flung theme parks and a way to attract more people to the park, which enhances safety.

Park Board member Ted McGregor, who leads the subcommittee overseeing Riverfront’s redevelopment, said Monday’s scheduled vote on a resolution to designate the rides for sale was evidence of progress to create a new park for a new generation. He added, however, that board members will listen to requests to study how the rides could fit into a new park.

“In my mind, we’ve kind of gone over this ground,” said McGregor, who also publishes the Inlander.

Sale of the rides, some of which have operated in the park since 1979, would net the Parks Department at least $150,000, said spokeswoman Fianna Dickson, stressing that’s a “conservative” estimate of their value. If the city doesn’t sell the rides, staff will have to find another place to house them. A maintenance yard where they’re stored will be disturbed by park construction next spring, and their previous home in the old Carnation Milk building, 444 W. Cataldo Ave., is being cleaned of asbestos, Dickson said.

McGlathery, who oversaw Riverfront operations from 1982 to 1996, has been working through a nonprofit advocacy group he founded to lobby city officials to retain historic park attractions, including the rides and the IMAX theater, both of which are shuttered this summer due to construction. He said the addition of new members to the park board, including former City Councilman Steve Salvatori, affords his group the opportunity to make a fresh pitch to save the rides by potentially housing them on the park’s north side, a proposal that’s been floated before.

The resolution, which will first appear before the Riverfront Park subcommittee at 8:15 a.m. Monday at City Hall, authorizes city staff to declare all the rides surplus, except for the miniature train that transports guests on a tour through the park. The declaration is the first step in selling the rides, which would be done through a public bidding process, Dickson said.

McGlathery said he appreciated the opportunity to discuss the issue with park board members again. But previous efforts to dissuade the board from disposing of the rides, including an email and petition campaign last summer, have fallen on deaf ears, he said.

“There are so many reasons not to ignore these rides, and the benefits they bring to the park,” McGlathery said. “It defies my understanding.”

McGregor said even if the board elects to sell the existing rides, it won’t mean the end of such attractions in the new park. The city is looking to contract with private entities to provide rides temporarily in some areas of the park, and there’s real estate available on the park’s new ice ribbon feature during the summer months to potentially house a new ride purchased with the money that comes in from the sale of the old ones, he said.

McGregor disagreed with McGlathery that the elimination of the rides would destroy interest in season passes for the park, which have been selling at a slower clip since peaking in 1996. According to McGlathery, more than 11,000 passes were sold in his final year as park director, and that number has dwindled to around 3,500 in recent years. The city could partner with those holding events in the park to provide free entry or other perks, or offer discounted entries to other downtown attractions, McGregor said.

“We’re not saying, nobody’s ever going to have fun in the park again,” he said.

If the Riverfont Park board approves the ride-selling resolution Monday, the full Park Board will make the final decision at a meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Spokane City Hall.

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