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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sportsplex plans get OK from state regulators as legal wrangling plays out with property owner

Plans are progressing swiftly for a new $42 million prep sports complex near the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, despite a lingering legal spat between a private property owner and the city’s Parks Department.

The state agency tasked with approving large-scale public works projects signed off last week on a design and construction plan for the complex with tentative completion in September 2020. The Spokane Public Facilities District, operators of the arena, the convention center and the INB Performing Arts Center, sent out a solicitation Friday for proposals from firms that could build the facility, envisioned as a 180,000-square-foot complex that includes a 200-meter banked indoor track with room for basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and wrestling events.

“It’s just super positive. How fun for Spokane to have the largest track west of the Mississippi,” said Stephanie Curran, chief executive officer of the public facilities district. “The amount of business that’s going to open up for the community, and for the hotels, is amazing.”

Rick Romero, Spokane’s former utilities director who has been working for the city on securing approval for the project from agencies that include the facilities district, Spokane County, the Spokane Sports Commission and the city’s Parks Department, said the state approval marked another important step in realization of the project first floated in 2015.

“We should take a pause here to recognize that we’ve completed a partnership with five entities, that have their various boards, and to receive the approval of a state commission, that’s a pretty cool thing,” Romero said.

The project will be funded through the sale of $25 million in bonds, overseen by the facilities district and Spokane County. The facilities district also has committed $11 million in reserve funding to the project, along with $5 million from the City of Spokane. The rest of the project is intended to be funded through state grants.

One detail that hasn’t been worked out is the exact location of the facility. Amanda Hansen, who along with her father owns a historic building at 433 W. Dean Ave., has watched over the past couple of years as prospective site plans and public discussions have included consideration of her property as part of the new building’s footprint.

“I don’t know what their end game is,” Hansen said. “It’s ultimately the city that’s responsible for providing the land.”

Complicating matters are a pair of outstanding legal issues surrounding the city Parks Department’s care of the building next door to Hansen. In late 2016, she filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that raccoons climbing the property at 444 W. Cataldo Ave., an old Carnation Dairy garage the Parks Department used for storage, had caused damage to a wall the two properties shared. The stench forced Hansen’s business, Dance Street Ballroom, out of the space three years ago.

That lawsuit is scheduled to go to court in October. But Hansen met with Romero and Curran last week to discuss resolving the lawsuit and land issue.

“While our building’s not for sale, we’re willing to come to the negotiation table,” Hansen said.

Romero and Curran acknowledged the city would prefer acquiring the building to make way for the sports complex. But a deal would have to make sense, and would also preferably resolve the outstanding legal issue.

“We have a lot of property, and a lot of options on the North Bank,” Romero said.

Curran said the project would move forward, regardless of whether a deal is struck.

“We hope to have that land, but if we aren’t able to get it, there are absolutely ways that we can re-orient that project,” she said. “We’re all good either way.”

Hansen hasn’t just filed the lawsuit, however. Earlier this year, she filed a code enforcement complaint arguing that the park-owned building had been allowed to fall into a substandard condition. Windows had been broken out, and a large portion of the building’s roof had caved in.

The city’s deputy building official recently found in favor of Hansen, ruling that the building violated city safety codes and ordering the Parks Department to come up with a plan to render the property safe.

Jason Conley, executive officer for the Spokane Parks Department, submitted a structural analysis and partial demolition plan to the city’s building official in response to the complaint. The report, prepared by the firm Coffman Engineers, was not available for review Friday after a public records request was made to the city last week. It doesn’t include a dollar amount for the anticipated work, which Conley suggested would be minor.

“Our plan is not to upgrade it, but to mitigate some of the concerns,” Conley said.

The city’s property is also included in the footprint of the new sports complex structure, which means any work done on the building could be rendered moot if the land is instead determined to be better used as part of that larger project. But Conley told the building official there still could be a use for the property in the future, as plans for the north bank area of Riverfront Park’s redevelopment become finalized.

“It’s kind of a big giant puzzle, that we’re fitting together,” Conley said.

Hansen also raised concerns about parking tickets that have been issued for her friends and acquaintances using the parking lot next to her property. The tickets indicate the vehicles were inappropriately parked on city property, despite being parked on land Hansen owns.

Conley said those tickets were issued in error by city staff. He said they’ve been voided and an apology has been issued, but Hansen said only one of the tickets has been excused – and it took the city close to about five months to do so.

The building official gave the city until the end of next month to secure a firm to complete the demolition work to make the building safe, with a hearing on the city’s progress scheduled for December.

By then, according to the plans for the sports complex, a firm will have been hired and begun designing the new facility, with shovels expected to hit the ground in January. Meanwhile, Hansen is waiting for an offer from the city on her property.

“We would love to see some numbers from them,” she said. “As concerned citizens, obviously, as much as we love our building, the Sportsplex will be better if they incorporate our property.”