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'Gimme a Break' 

Walt Worthy wants incentives to build a new downtown hotel; plus, new leadership at Spokane Arts Fund

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Lil’ Help?

Walt Worthy isn’t going to go with his initial plan to build a 15-story hotel in downtown Spokane, but he might build a smaller version — if he can get a little help from the city of Spokane.

In a June letter to City Council President Ben Stuckart, Worthy says he determined last year “that the cost to build a large convention hotel was too high for us to feel comfortable moving forward.” Instead, he “value-engineered” the project, eliminating two floors from the plan.

He also wanted to discuss incentives the city could give him to build the hotel, including a 10-year tax abatement, at-cost permitting and plan-check fees, and concessions regarding development fees like building permits and impact fees.

It’s not unusual for cities or counties to offer big incentives to undertake a massive project. (Kendall Yards is one example.) Such projects can generate substantial amounts of economic development. But granting specific requests, worth vast quantities of tax dollars, to an already successful developer can be dicey. Stuckart says he wants to make sure general rules are made, instead of just targeting one project by one developer.

Stuckart also wanted to ensure that, if the city is handing out incentives, it attaches strings involving livable wages and the use of local contractors.

“The goal is to get back to Mr. Worthy as soon as possible,” Stuckart said at a study session last Thursday.

The city is in the process of meeting to write a policy, Stuckart says, establishing which incentives to offer large downtown projects like Worthy’s proposed hotel.

— DANIEL WALTERS

Primary Race Heats Up

The Republican primary contest for Idaho’s 2nd District Congressional seat will be the race to watch in 2014. Rep. Mike Simpson’s challenger, Bryan Smith, has raised nearly $150,000 since he announced his candidacy at the end of June, thanks to an influential endorsement from the Club for Growth, a national anti-tax organization with deep pockets and heavy clout.

The Club for Growth recruited Smith, an Idaho Falls attorney, to run against Simpson earlier this spring. Simpson, an eight-term incumbent from a heavily conservative district, is among the more moderate Republicans in the House, with 58 percent rating on Club for Growth’s conservative scorecard.

The organization has repeatedly blasted Simpson as a “Republican in name only.” The anti-spending group’s president, Chris Chocola, says Simpson is “one of the biggest liberals in the Republican Party today.”

The Club for Growth PAC has a history of bankrolling successful conservative candidates, including freshmen Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and spent nearly $18 million on last year’s election cycle.

— DEANNA PAN

Art Direction

The Spokane Arts Fund, the nonprofit organization that, among many other things, promotes and supports Spokane’s artistic community, announced its new artistic director on Tuesday.

Shannon Roach was selected by the group’s board after an exhaustive search. Roach comes to the position from Seattle, where she served as the executive director of the Northwest chapter of the Recording Academy — which you probably know better as the Grammys. Before that, she was the managing director of The Vera Project, a volunteer-run arts and music venue in Seattle.

“This is an exciting time for art in Spokane, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to bring my arts leadership experience to this region. I’ve seen firsthand how arts can foster the creative cultures that bolster economies and build regional identity,” Roach says in a statement.

Karen Mobley, who stepped down as director this spring to take the position of program manager, says she knows the organization, which originated last year after the city dismantled its arts department, is in good hands.

“She has a positive reputation in the region,” Mobley says, “and I feel confident that she has the passion and the energy that’s required of that job.”

— MIKE BOOKEY

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