An aging building filled with asbestos has already given way to a spectacular view of the rushing Spokane River in downtown Spokane.
Now, Spokane County commissioners need to decide the next step for land that has received $4.3 million in Conservation Futures funds that all county residents – even those in Spokane Valley – pay for through property taxes.
At Tuesday morning’s CEO briefing, Leroy Eadie, director of parks for the city of Spokane, told the commissioners the city was ready to move forward with a restoration project that will improve nearly an acre of property at Riverfront Park where the former downtown YMCA sat. Eadie outlined a plan that would see three lookout areas over the falls constructed that would include plaques that would explain the Conservation Futures program, where the county purchases property through property tax dollars that is set aside for recreational uses or wildlife habitats.
“We’re ready to move forward,” Eadie said.
With the commissioners blessing – the board is planning to make its decision June 7 – the city would go out to bid in June for a July 15 start date on the restoration project. The former YMCA building was demolished over the winter, however the work had been slowed after the discovery of asbestos was found in the structure. That added $80,000 paid to Rob’s Demolition to bring the total cost to raze the structure $750,000.
“The contractor did a great job keeping the building out of the river,” Eadie said.
It will cost about $440,000 to restore the property, Eadie added, which will stretch the budget due to the unanticipated costs of the asbestos removal.
“That’s tight,” he said, “but we’ll find (the extra money) in other places in the budget if we have to.”
The work should be completed by early fall, if all goes well, Eadie said.
In addition to a greater view of the falls, the area of the park will also include limited access to a new stream that was discovered running underneath the YMCA as well as the construction of American Disability Act-approved pathways. Eadie said there will also be “quite a bit of landscaping improvements” to the area.
The county commissioners – minus Todd Mielke, who was not present Tuesday – said they would tour the area before making their decision to move forward.
When the proposal was first brought to the commissioners nearly three years ago, it was unique in that Conservation Futures money had never been used to secure land in the middle of an existing park – especially one located in the heart of Spokane County’s largest city. However, the cash-strapped city of Spokane was looking for help in paying the $5.3 million cost for the former YMCA, which would protect the property from being developed into condominiums. The city paid $1 million while the Conservation Futures money covered the rest.
Eadie said, however, that the city could receive a $1 million grant that would lower the impact to the Conservation Futures fund to $3.3 million.
“That would be good news,” he said.
The Conservation Futures program has been popular with Spokane County voters, as it has been overwhelmingly approved at the polls three times – the last being in November 2007 – who have agreed to give up 6 centers per $1,000 in assessed property value to fund it. Through the program, underdeveloped land such as timberlands, wetlands, species habitats, and agricultural and farmlands are placed on a priority list for potential county purchase to prevent them from being commercially developed.
Commissioner Mark Richard said he is pleased with the work that has been done thus far and that the Conservation Futures funding will be put to good use – expanding the enjoyment of the Spokane River.
“Right now, you could not have a better demonstration of these falls,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a phenomenal project.”