Spokane Journal of Business

Eugster idea for Summit site hits wall

Metropolitan says it’s not ready to begin developing big parcel near downtown

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Spokane City Councilman Steve Eugster says hed like to see the city work out some type of agreement with Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities Co. that would help kick-start development activity at the Spokane companys big Summit site west of downtown along the Spokane River.

The outspoken attorney says hes eager to see residential construction occur on some of the vacant, 88-acre site, which has been mostly idle for years, and he adds, I think its extremely important that it happen sooner rather than later.

He suggests that the city, to help get the project rolling, might consider putting in sewer and water lines and curbs and gutters on the property at its expense or help arrange some sort of local tax-increment financing.

Metropolitan, though, says that it currently is focusing its real estate development efforts on other properties it owns, including at Liberty Lake, Airway Heights, and Pasco, and has no plans to begin developing the Summit site any time soon.

We have not received any formal proposals (from Eugster), and to be honest with you, it is not on the front burner for us, says Erik Skaggs, Metropolitans community and government relations manager.

Citing stronger market demand at some of Metropolitans other properties, he says, Really, the Summit is very much on the back burner at this point, and were really not trying to cultivate any agreements. Were probably several steps away from having any discussions about development incentives for the Summit.

For example, Metropolitan would need to sit down with city officials and review the master plan for the site, which now is six or seven years old, Skaggs says. That plan envisioned an urban village on the property that would include a mix of residential neighborhoods, public services, offices, specialty shops, restaurants, recreational facilities, and a hotel, among other uses.

We do believe at some point the Summit will provide a valuable boost to downtown housing, but we have not sat down to put pen to paper to create an action plan for making that happen, Skaggs says.

Metropolitan, which supported Eugsters candidacy strongly in last falls election, did ask to have the Summit property included in one of two urban districts here in which developers of multifamily housing can receive 10-year property-tax exemptions, under an ordinance approved recently by the City Council. However, Eugster, who sponsored the ordinance, says he intentionally left the Summit property out of the targeted West Central district it adjoins because he wanted to explore other incentive ideas with Metropolitan.

Apart from his interest in residential development on the Summit site, Eugster says he believes strongly that the city should sell the current City Hall building, at the northwest corner of Spokane Falls Boulevard and Post Street, and move to a new building that would be constructed near the Spokane County Courthouse. The county complex is a short distance north of the Summit property.

The City Council last month asked staff members to begin a formal study of the feasibility of such a move. Eugster says he believes the move would make sense partly because of the potential for a regional government here at some point in the future.

Im hopeful that this idea about City Hall will kick in, and it will move along with somebody saying, Well build a building; well lease it to you. I dont want to spend a lot of money on bricks and mortar, Eugster says.

There again, at least for now, Metropolitan Mortgage isnt grabbing at the invitation.

Skaggs says, We feel very strongly that if City Hall wants to seriously consider making a move, it needs to be done in a very open, very public process with an RFP (request for proposals) that also looks at other potential sites.

Metropolitan acquired the Summit property through a series of acquisitions beginning in the early 1980s. Over the last several years, it has removed a row of warehouses, two dilapidated taverns, and three World War II-era industrial buildings from the site. To make the land more attractive to prospective developers, it also has begun removing part of a massive dirt berm that once supported railroad tracks there.

However, it hasnt developed any speculative buildings on the site or been able to attract a major commercial development to kick off the master-plan project.

Kim Crompton
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