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

David Condon the builder: Record street investments, stormwater tanks a lasting legacy

Spokane mayor David Condon speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, October 1, 2019, at Shaw Middle School in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

If an administration were to be judged by what it builds, the eight years of Mayor David Condon’s governance has quite a bit to hang its hat on.

Funded by taxes approved in 2014 with Condon’s backing, the city’s streets saw record annual investments and Spokane’s aging downtown attraction, Riverfront Park, has in many ways been completely remade. But the biggest building project is one most residents will never see – a network of massive subterranean stormwater tanks built in an effort to stop untreated sewage from spilling into the Spokane River.

In the past five years alone, the city has installed retention systems capable of holding 14 million gallons of untreated runoff flowing into the city’s sewers. The work, expected to cost close to $190 million when all is said and done, is being paid for in large part by the sale of bonds in November 2014 earmarked for so-called “green” projects.

Condon highlighted this work in public addresses, even traveling to Washington, D.C., in March to address federal lawmakers on the success of the program and noting it was the largest infrastructure investment in the city’s history.

All that work has not been without controversy.

Both the mayor and city lawmakers came under fire from a few business owners along the North Monroe Street corridor, which was reduced from five lanes to three lanes in an effort to slow traffic after several pedestrians were struck. Condon supported the change, sympathizing with business owners but celebrating its ribbon-cutting as creating a new, walkable business district in north Spokane.

Riverfront Park’s renovation got off to a rocky start, with a former Park Board chairman pointing to ballooning costs due to necessary bridge replacements. Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart, after initial plans were unveiled with an uncovered U.S. Pavilion building, discussed asking voters to rein in some of the authority of the autonomous Park Board. But the mayor has since lauded the new structure and held his annual mayor’s ball fundraiser beneath the netting in September.

And the stormwater project, lauded by conservation groups, has become part of the scrutiny of efforts to alter federal limits of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the river. Condon has supported seeking a reprieve from those limits, arguing that the costs of the work would be incalculably high to meet the new standard on top of the $340 million already spent. The city’s utility ratepayers have funded the work thus far, and Condon pledged to keep rate increases capped at 2.9% annually.

The underground tank system will be fully operational this summer, and the new wastewater treatment technology at the Riverside Park Water Reclamation Facility will be online in 2021.

For all of those big building projects, there’s one in the heart of downtown that eluded Condon, and that the two-term mayor has hinted he may continue to push for once he’s left City Hall.

In summer 2018, the mayor made a hard push for the city to include the construction of a downtown, multiuse sports stadium on its bond issue before voters in conjunction with Spokane Public Schools. The district’s board of directors balked on the project, and so, too, did city lawmakers, leaving the question to an advisory vote that failed to attract a simple majority of voters that fall.

But at the recent groundbreaking for the indoor Sportsplex, which will be built across the street from where the downtown stadium would stand, Condon made it clear to gathered elected officials and business boosters he was still very much in favor of the project.

“You know what I see over there?” Condon told the crowd, who’d turned to look at a parking lot. “I see a pretty amazing outdoor, multipurpose football, soccer and lacrosse field. That’s what I see.”

Kip Hill was the City Hall reporter covering local politics from summer 2016 to summer 2018.