City of Spokane considering giving University District $1 million property on east edge of downtown

Friday, December 21, 2018

(as reported in The Spokesman-Review by Rebecca White; photo by Libby Kamrowski)

The city of Spokane may soon give a property at the edge of downtown Spokane worth an estimated $1 million to the University District as it scales back other financial contributions.

The property was once the Spokane Visitors Center and is leased by the University of Washington, which pays about $62,000 in rent to the city annually. The property was assessed by the county at $640,900 this year, but chair of the City Council Finance Committee, Councilwoman Candace Mumm, said she’s been told by city staff that it could be worth between $950,000 and $1.2 million.

“This is a key piece of property in downtown Spokane,” she said.

Mumm said until the city performs a market analysis or new appraisal, it won’t know the real value of the parcel.

The city is considering transferring the property for $1 and a $40,000 reduction in the city’s annual payment to the University District, according to city documents. The University of Washington’s lease for the building expires in June, but University District CEO Lars Gilberts said it intends to extend the agreement.

Gilberts said the district hopes to develop the area, but for now would like to continue working with UW.

In an emailed statement, UW Spokesman Victor Balta said the center supports UW medical students, alumni and prospective students as well as their dentistry education program. He said the university has expressed its interest in renewing the lease and hopes to continue working out of the center.

Mumm questioned how much the transfer might end up costing the city when the topic came up in the council’s monthly Finance Committee meeting Monday. She said she didn’t necessarily oppose the transfer, but wanted accurate information on what the city would be gaining or losing by transferring a $1 million property and forgoing $62,000 annually from UW.

“Every time we move the dial,” she said, “it comes out of somebody’s budget.”

Gilberts said the city was transferring the revenue it receives to the University District, but it was also transferring some of the risk and expense of maintaining a property.

He said in the short term, the revenue from the former visitors center will support the University District Public Development Authority’s mission and it hopes to acquire the land, or work with nearby property owners to redevelop the area and get the best use out of it.

“What gets redeveloped there is important to our community,” he said. “Both in a business and educational perspective.”