Despite protests from one council member that perhaps another piece of property – or a lower price – might make more sense, the majority of the Spokane Valley City Council voted Tuesday to buy Sprague Avenue land that could be developed into an expanded park and house a new library in the future.
The council voted 6-1 – Council Member Ben Wick voted no – to authorize the city manager to execute all necessary documents to finalize the purchase of 8.4 acres of vacant land on the north side of Sprague east of Herald Road for $2.5 million. The property, which is owned by Pring Corp., is appraised at $2.74 million.
Well-known Spokane Valley businessman Jack Pring has contributed to the campaigns of all six “yes” voting council members. Pring’s son, Bradley King, is the president of Pring Corp.
In January, library representatives came before the council and asked that the city buy the land, which is west of Balfour Park, in order to expand the recreational area and allow the Spokane County Library District, pending a bond-vote approval, build a new Spokane Valley Library on the west end of the land. The library district, in turn, would repay the city for its portion of the property.
Most of the council were ready to jump on the proposal even in the early stages – “I think we have to go while the iron’s hot,” said Council Member Chuck Hafner, a former Pring employee, at the time – but Wick said the city should look at all its options first.
Wick – the only member of the council to not have received a Pring contribution, nor associated with the council’s “Positive Change” affiliation, which has had routine morning coffee sessions with Jack Pring – on Tuesday reiterated that, in the past, the council and staff had always considered various alternatives before proceeding with any course of action.
“While a central city park is a great idea and I’m wholeheartedly supportive that we should do something like that,” Wick said, “we have not done due diligence, in my mind, and looked at other possibilities.”
Council Member Brenda Grassel reminded Wick that the request was not initiated by Pring nor the council.
“In my mind this is a great project,” Grassel said. “It was not something we pursued. It’s that partnership with the library that makes it a worthy endeavor.”
Wick noted that a partnership with the library district has initially been proposed for a new city center across the street from the proposed site. In that scenario, the new library and a new city hall would be the hub of new development in the former University City area. That idea crumbled when voters rejected a $3.4 million bond request in 2008, and Positive Change council candidates seized on that failure as proof there was little interest in the former council’s controversial Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, which the proposed city center was a centerpiece.
The issue of Pring’s campaign contributions to the council members was revisited by Wick prior to the vote on the land purchase.
“I would like to request that we acknowledge the campaign contributions from the council members that are voting tonight,” Wick said.
“I don’t have a problem with doing that, Ben,” said Council Member Dean Grafos. “I’d like to disclose my other 91 donors this evening.”
“I disclosed it originally,” said Council Member Arne Woodard. “I would be highly insulted to think that a $300 campaign contribution would taint my vote on anything to do with Mr. Pring. I’ve acknowledged it, and I’ll leave the other 41 donors out of the conversation.”
“This is a road we’ve gone through in the past,” Hafner said. “I think there have been quite a few newspaper articles relative to that. We did make our stand where we’ve stood with it.”
The library district had initially considered a 50,000-square-foot facility for the Balfour area, but now has scaled those plans down to a 30,000-square-foot one-story building.