Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Quintrall interview shows lack of clarity on Worthy hotel incentives

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 1:48 PM

Last year, as the controversy over the firing of Scott Chesney continued to percolate, we wrote a story on Jan Quintrall, Spokane's then-division director of business and development services, her influence, successes and controversies. She later resigned, saying "... I have broken the public’s trust, and I can’t repair that."
click to enlarge Jan Quintrall, former division director of business and development services for the City of Spokane.
  • Jan Quintrall, former division director of business and development services for the City of Spokane.

During one of our lengthy, wide-ranging interviews at the end of last year, we touched upon the incentives for the Worthy hotel, which has now boiled over into its own controversy. 

I asked Quintrall about the way the city seemed to have abandoned its initial plans, championed by Chesney, to turn Main into a two-way street. Some of the initial discussion included the possibility of developer Walt Worthy's new hotel being far more pedestrian-friendly, with retail facing both Main Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard. 

I was curious why that had changed. And since Worthy had come to the city asking for incentives to build his hotel, couldn't the city have asked for certain pedestrian-friendly design choices in return? 

The hotel, Quintrall explained, changed the conversation over a two-way Main Avenue. 
Quintrall: “The hotel started to change things. ‘Oh boy, we had this massive hotel. How is that going to fit with two-way Main?’

Inlander: There was discussion about having frontage of the hotel be facing Main. It doesn’t seem like that happened. Where was the disconnect there?

Quintrall: Oh, I think always the frontage was to face the park.

Inlander: But there was going to be frontage on both sides, theoretically.

Quintrall: There will still be… it isn’t all parking garage, on the back there. There will be windows, and you’re not going to get an ugly backing there.

Inlander: But as far as having retail on the ground, that was something that was discussed but it was not something that was gone through?

Quintrall: I know it was discussed, but it wasn’t something we could demand.

Inlander: “But they were asking for incentives, right? That’s one of the things that Worthy was asking for, all these different incentives? Right? So that could have been something that was part of that incentive package.”

Quintrall: You’re past me.”

Inlander: What? The incentives that...

Quintrall: “Yeah, there’s a whole lot of talk about ‘incentives.’ We’re doing some streetscape work, which was an agreement we had between the city with the PFD, where we gave up that lane, and when it goes away we have to put it back. So, there was a lot of discussions that were had quite a while back between meetings I didn’t attend. So I really can’t speak with any authority to that.
Quintrall, however, was the boss of Scott Chesney, and the head of the division that was responsible for interfacing with big developers like Worthy. One of Quintrall's stated reasons for firing Chesney, of course, was that he would make promises to developers that the city couldn't keep.

It was interesting that Quintrall didn't consider herself an authority on the incentives promised to a massive developer for the biggest project downtown Spokane has seen in years. Later, I learned that Quintrall and Chesney sent Mayor David Condon a memo laying out the incentives for the Worthy hotel, worth up to $3.36 million. (I've posted an image of the memo at the bottom of this blog

And now, as the Inlander and the Spokesman-Review have reported, the lack of clarity over the incentives has become a major item of contention between Worthy, the Condon administration, and the city council. The council has refused to pay the $318,000 that Worthy says the city owes him for environmental remediation. They council claims they weren't adequately consulted or informed, and did not approve it. 

The day before the memo was sent, the council discuss the idea of incentives in a study session, but also discussed wanting to create a clear framework for incentives, instead of handing it out on a case-by-case basis. 

After being showed the passage from my interview, City Council President Ben Stuckart suggests that it's proof that no clear deal was reached.

"That quote highlights the fact that there was no agreement," he says. 

With such an important project, Stuckart says, all parties could have communicated and researched better. 

"Staff probably needed to dig in and bring this for approval. Council needed to do a better job of following up," he says. "On the lack of an incentive policy, nobody is blameless."

Stuckart wants a formal policy and evaluative tool, so this sort of confusion doesn't happen again. 


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