Citizens of Liberty Lake will tell you that for all its trails, greenspace and bustling calendar of community events, the city still lacks a viable civic center.
A discussion of that very topic surrounded a $9.8 million capital facilities initiative in 2008 when the city went before voters with a project that would have funded a new library and community center on 6.4 acres of municipal land. In campaigning for the proposal in the weeks leading up to the April 22 special election, longtime resident Margaret Barnes said that while venues like Pavillion Park may be popular in the spring and summer months, the city still lacked a dedicated hub.
“Right now, the people of Liberty Lake have very few places to gather year-round,” Barnes said.
By the time ballots were cast, a disappointing turnout of only 1,734 voters rejected the funding request by a margin of 61 to 39 percent.
Looking back on the vote, Doug Smith, Liberty Lake community development director, said the city could have done a better job providing more information about the project and its ripple effect.
“We didn’t spend enough time articulating the benefits for the cost,” he said. “We failed to include enough detail about the overall impact this was going to have.”
Despite the resounding defeat, support for a new library remained. Liberty Lake Librarian Pamela Mogen recalls “a lot of people wondering, ‘Where do we go from here?’”
That July, the city answered that question, moving ahead with the purchase of a $37,400-square-foot warehouse once occupied by a manufacturing company. The pricetag for the building – which would house both the library and the Liberty Lake Police Department – came in at just under $2 million while the city set aside $675,000 for renovation costs.
While the refurbished building was ready by late February 2009 and garnered positive reviews from residents, the future of the 6.4 acres remained mostly up in the air.
That is, until Steve Peterson returned to the mayor’s office.
Peterson – the inaugural mayor of Liberty Lake who won re-election in the November general election – announced plans at the first City Council meeting of 2012 to develop at least part of the land as a benefit to the Liberty Lake Farmers Market. Peterson served as mayor from incorporation in 2001 through 2007 when he was narrowly defeated by Council Member Wendy Van Orman. The 6.4 acres was purchased in 2005 under Peterson’s tenure for a cool $1.34 million.
“Hopefully, this will someday house a community center,” Peterson said at the Jan. 3 council meeting.
Accompanied by construction drawings from the original design, Peterson talked about the “first phase” of the project – “building a permanent home for the farmers market.” Located on North Meadowwood Lane along the western fringe of the city’s land, the market runs each Saturday from May through October and features over 40 vendors hawking everything from produce to tacos.
“The Farmers Market is a great gathering place,” said Smith.
Peterson, who for years occupied a booth at the market that specialized in crepes, noted at the last council meeting that the venue now welcomes an average of around 3,000 people every Saturday. The venture began with eight vendors and a typical weekly crowd of approximately 200.
“It’s now a premier market in Spokane County and North Idaho,” Peterson said.
According to Smith, the proposed upgrade would include the addition of sidewalks, street frontage improvements, turf and leveling. Another 40 parking spaces would also be added to the Spokane Transit Authority shuttle parking lot to the south of the farmers market.
The goal is to meet with representatives of STA and the Farmers Market soon and have a construction bid out in time for work to begin sometime this spring.
Smith said the renovation will represent the first phase in an effort to bring Liberty Lake the civic focal point that has been on the table since before incorporation.
“This will be a greatly improved space for the farmers market,” Smith said. “But there’s no question that looking ahead the priority will be for a community center.”