City Council President Ben Stuckart said Tuesday that his recent proposal to redirect funding from a major downtown development led by Larry Stone into drug addiction treatment efforts is already “dead.”
Stuckart had initially backed a proposal to contribute $300,000 of city money to benefit Stone’s project, called The Falls, which is anticipated to bring more than 100 units of new housing to Spokane.
But less than a month later, he was having second thoughts after Stone released his “Curing Spokane” video, which took a tough look at downtown crime and drew criticism from Stuckart.
Stuckart suggested last week that the city consider diverting funding to drug addiction treatment and outreach, using money previously set aside for public infrastructure improvements around developments such as Stone’s.
The proposal, floated by Stuckart during an Urban Experience Committee meeting last week, would directly strike the wallet of Stone, who published the 17-minute video on Aug. 29 that proposed a number of policies aimed at alleviating crime in downtown Spokane.
Stone has since withdrawn his endorsement of Stuckart’s candidacy for mayor.
“When I made this video, it was just to get a conversation going among the candidates. I didn’t expect that Ben would be taking this so personally or so poorly,” Stone said.
Stuckart, who has previously supported similar incentives for developers, described it as a “one-sentence idea,” not payback for a video that could be viewed as detrimental to his mayoral bid.
“I wouldn’t call it retribution if I did (advance the treatment and outreach proposal), it would be addressing his concerns,” Stuckart said.
Stuckart’s motivations weren’t out of animus toward Stone, he said, but due in part to the response after the council approved a $104,000 investment in support of Riverside Commons, a 104-unit development on the eastern edge of downtown, in August.
“The last time, when we did that apartment building downtown, I got a lot of community feedback that it was a giveaway,” Stuckart said.
Stuckart said he didn’t hear any support for his idea from other City Council members following the committee meeting, nor does he have time to start such an initiative now.
“It’s a dead issue for me, I haven’t gotten any positive feedback from council members. I think they were a little taken aback,” Stuckart said.
Stone is looking to tap into pot of money set aside for “Projects of Citywide Significance” to make improvements to public infrastructure around The Falls, a 23-story tower with 125 units of housing and 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space at the southeast corner of Lincoln Street and Broadway Avenue.
Under the terms of the program, a developer is reimbursed for improvements made in the public right of way upon completion of the entire project. In Stone’s case, the proposal includes burying utility lines near the tower.
Developer Rob Brewster, who has endorsed Stuckart, has applied for $165,665 through the program.
Stuckart, along with Councilwoman Candace Mumm and City Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley, reviewed and recommended approval of the funding for Stone’s project as members of the Project Review Committee. They signed off on the project on Aug. 12.
The proposal requires approval from the Spokane City Council.
Stone said the $300,000 grant will not make or break the $70 million project, but he remains concerned.
“If it’s telling us that we shouldn’t be building, if this is a signal from perhaps the future mayor that perhaps we’re not welcome, then that’s pretty scary for me,” Stone said.
If elected mayor, Stuckart said he would not work to block Stone’s development.
In “Curing Spokane,” the video Stone produced and published in August, he suggested four ways to reduce the effect of crime in downtown Spokane: build a larger jail outside of the city center; increase downtown policing and more aggressively prosecute misdemeanor crimes; build an underground Spokane Transit Authority plaza; and improve downtown parking.
The video was immediately criticized by Stuckart and lauded by Nadine Woodward, his opponent in the upcoming mayoral election.
“I don’t see how Larry can watch his own film and decide the solutions are parking spaces instead of mental health treatment, underground bus stations instead of affordable housing, and a bigger jail instead of programs that get our people out of poverty,” Stuckart said following the video’s publication.
Despite the political fallout, Stone does not regret producing the video and said, “I guess a person just has to do what they think is right.”
“In my heart, I never had any ill will toward Ben Stuckart. My conscience is clear,” Stone said. “The $300,000 isn’t going to stop the project, and I hope that Ben won’t stop the project if he’s elected mayor.”
Though he initially endorsed Stuckart for mayor, Stone has said that he will now remain neutral in the race. Following the publication of “Curing Spokane,” Stone donated $970 to Woodward’s campaign to match the contributions he had already made to Stuckart.
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