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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Council signals intent to purchase East Trent Avenue homeless shelter

Jan. 24, 2023 Updated Tue., Jan. 24, 2023 at 8:07 p.m.

The Trent Resource and Assistance Center on Trent Avenue is seen on Sept. 1.   (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
The Trent Resource and Assistance Center on Trent Avenue is seen on Sept. 1.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane City Council has signaled its intent to purchase the former trucking warehouse on East Trent Avenue that now serves as the region’s largest homeless shelter, despite resistance from the mayor and concerns over fiscal sustainability.

Citing a desire to own the building before investing in improvements, the Council voted 5-2 to inform developer Larry Stone, who owns the building through an LLC, of its desire to purchase the building. Stone purchased the warehouse in March for $3.5 million.

“We’re looking at hundreds of thousands, if not millions in investments in that building in the next few years,” Council President Breean Beggs said. “A majority of us this summer said we should purchase the building so that the benefits of those improvements benefit the city.”

When Spokane City Administrator Johnnie Perkins negotiated the lease for the building, he included a clause that expires at the end of the month that allows the city to seek to purchase the building.

Following the Council’s vote, a third party will conduct an appraisal of the property’s value. That appraised value will act as a starting point for negotiations, but is nonbinding, Beggs said.

After the appraisal is complete, the city and the property owner will have 15 days to come to an agreement over a price.

If a price is agreed upon, Beggs said he expects the city will pay for the building using funds from leftover pandemic relief and real estate excise taxes, as well as loans and unallocated reserves.

Mayor Nadine Woodward has opposed purchasing the former warehouse, saying she has concerns about adding to the city’s real estate portfolio.

“We have a challenge maintaining the buildings we already have,” she said in a December interview.

Council members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle voted against pursuing the real estate acquisition, voicing concerns about the long-term fiscal sustainability of homeless services in the shelter.

“We’re talking $12 million to $15 million per year, once we start talking services, wraparound – the $25,000 we’re spending (per month) on the lease term, that’s a pittance compared to the cost of this project,” Cathcart said.

“I just question whether this thing is going to be able to exist next year,” he added. “I don’t know where the money comes from.”

Bingle also argued that the council was sending the wrong message to those living and working near the shelter.

“As soon as we purchase this building, it goes from a temporary facility to a permanent fixture in this community,” he said.

Bingle added that he generally prefers purchasing a building instead of renting it, but echoed Cathcart’s concerns about whether the city will be able to afford the Trent shelter’s robust services in years to come.

Those concerns were not lost on the other members of the City Council.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Councilwoman Lori Kinnear responded to Cathcart during Monday’s meeting.

The city should consider selling the Cannon Street Shelter and consolidating its services at the larger Trent shelter, she suggested.

Beggs added that funds from outside sources, such as the state, could make it possible to keep current services afloat.

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson added that if one day the city no longer needs the Trent shelter, it could sell it.

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