Spokane Journal of Business

Developers find more uses for new financing tool

Projects include four sites on West Plains, downtown garage, Sprague upgrades

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More Spokane-area developers are looking into whether tax-increment financing could act as a catalyst for big-ticket projects theyve been considering.

At least two elected officials here also hope to take advantage of the new economic-development tool for public improvements.

Spokane developer Dick Edwards says he owns an interest in and is pursuing development of at least five large undeveloped chunks of land for which he plans to ask Spokane County to set up tax-increment financing districts.

I want to get them done, Edwards says. Were not dragging our feet.

Spokane developer and architect Ron Wells, president of Wells & Co., says his company is checking into whether the city would be willing to use the tool to finance construction of a downtown parking garage that would serve Steam Plant Square, the Davenport Hotel, the Courtyard Office Suites, and other buildings in that neighborhood. His company has done some design work for such a structure and has met with Mayor John Powers to discuss the potential project.

Wells envisions the project being built on land, most of which he owns, just across the railroad viaduct from Steam Plant Square that currently is used for surface parking. He refers to tax-increment financing as an absolute necessity for economic development here.

In another possible project, Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin says she plans to meet with other county officials later this month to discuss the possibility of funding through tax-increment financing an East Sprague Avenue revitalization project in the Spokane Valley.

She says such a project would cost about $2 million to develop and would involve adding sidewalks and grassy areas along the East Sprague, or westbound, portion of the new Valley couplet.

It would turn it into more of a boulevard, McCaslin says. I think it would really change the character of that corridor.

The couplet currently starts at the Sprague Avenue-Interstate 90 interchange and extends east to University Avenue, but eventually its expected to reach all the way to Liberty Lake. McCaslin envisions the sidewalk-and-grass improvements being added along the entire length of the couplet as it is completed.

Another elected official, Spokane City Councilman Steve Eugster, has discussed a similar beautification projectthough larger in cost and scopefor downtown Spokane.

Edwards, Wells, McCaslin, and Eugster were among about 30 people who attended an invitation-only tax-increment financing seminar conducted here last week by the Spokane office of Seattle-based Perkins-Coie LLP law firm. Perkins-Coie attorney Roy Koegen says he initially invited only about 20 of Spokanes most influential developers and civic leaders to the program, but several more people called and asked to attend.

At the seminar, Koegen said, We view this as win-win financing.

Last month, Gov. Gary Locke signed a tax-increment financing bill into law, and that law takes effect in July. Generally speaking, the law allows a city or county to issue bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements in a development, and most of the resulting increases in property taxes in that area go toward paying off that debt. After the debt is paid, the taxes would flow to the city or county.

The land Edwards wants to develop includes four properties on the West Plains with a total of about 180 acres. They are an 83-acre site along I-90 next to an Inland Power & Light Co. West Plains facility, 65 acres along U.S. 2, and two nearby 20-acre sites. The fifth site is a 43-acre parcel along Interstate 90 near Barker Road in the Spokane Valley.

All five sites have I-2 zoning, which allows for a variety of light-industrial and commercial uses.

Edwards says he hopes the county and other taxing districts agree to establish tax-increment financing districts to fund infrastructure improvements on his parcels, so ground could be broken on projects to serve uses at those sites. He declines to disclose the potential value of those developments and says he doesnt know how much infrastructure improvements would cost, but says the cost would be significant.

Developers of another West Plains project, the Pacific Northwest Technology Park, have met with county officials to discuss whether the county would be interested in employing the funding mechanism to pay for infrastructure improvements there to help the development move along.

Edwards says of the West Plains area, Thats going to be one of the really desirable areas. There will be so much going on out there, people are going to drive down Highway 2 and wonder what happened.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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