by KEVIN TAYLOR and DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & "U & lt;/span & rgent! Please call right away!" Spokane City Councilwoman Mary Verner checked her messages Friday at noon and saw the urgent notice from Council President Joe Shogan.
The subject was the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district that the city proposes to reimburse developer Marshall Chesrown's Black Rock Development for some of its costs of building public infrastructure on the Kendall Yards property.
"[Shogan] says the mayor wanted to hear from council members by 1 o'clock to know how we were going to vote on Kendall Yards. I was infuriated. I told Joe I wasn't going to do that," Verner says.
All City Council members received the call from Shogan on behalf of Mayor Dennis Hession. What made it urgent, Shogan and council members say, is that they were told Chesrown was threatening to pull the plug on the 80-acre project unless he was assured the council would give it a favorable vote after a public hearing May 14. Groundbreaking is scheduled for May 17.
Black Rock officials say Chesrown is vacationing in California and it's unlikely that he personally made that call.
Some call this arm-twisting by the developer of a long-awaited downtown project in advance of a hearing where council members and residents may still have questions or concerns -- shades of River Park Square, when, in 1997, the council was maneuvered into a "now or never" vote on the infamous parking garage, critics say.
Shogan, for one, doesn't see a straight-across comparison.
"First of all, the city's monetary involvement is not the same here. There is no huge investment of city funds," he says.
The TIF plan would direct money from the increased property taxes generated as a result of the Kendall Yards development to pay for things like sidewalks and sewer pipes. Chesrown would pay to have the public infrastructure installed and the city would reimburse him with as much as 75 percent of the new tax money. Some of the rest of that new tax money would go for public infrastructure in the rest of the TIF district, which would also include the county government campus, parts of the West Central neighborhood and up Monroe Street to the bottom of the North Hill.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he aforementioned political theater came after last Thursday's City Council briefing session in which members peppered city officials with questions about the details of proposed TIF district.
"We were not invited to participate in that briefing," says Black Rock Development President Roger Hanson.
Shogan and City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin say the confusing presentation - and the questions it prompted by the council - created alarm on Black Rock's part.
"I had people call me right and left," the next morning, McLaughlin says. "I think because I was asking so many questions people thought I was not supportive. I got two calls from Joe [Shogan], a call from Rob [Crow], two calls from Al [French], two calls from Tom Reese [Black Rock's Kendall Yards representative], a call from Judy Cole at Avista.
"I told them I just wanted my questions answered," McLaughlin says. "When people say the TIF is changing from 20 to 25 years, I say, 'Explain it to me.' I want to be very, very careful that what we've been sold is what gets built."
Hanson says Black Rock officials reacted after hearing that councilmembers "didn't have complete enough information for their liking." He says that he, Reese and city officials spent the rest of Thursday, Friday and Saturday answering the elected officials' questions.
"I'm confident that everything is back on track and that the TIF will move forward," he says.
Shogan says, "I think this has been a big overreaction," on Black Rock's part. The developer's people were reacting to the council's barrage of questions last Thursday as if that meant support of the likely favorable vote was eroding.
"All I did was ask how the council felt at that time," Shogan says.
Asked if he should have, asked if this appeared to be arm-twisting, he paused before answering.
"It's an important project," he says. "I don't know Marshall Chesrown. For all I know he was going to walk away from this at 1 o'clock. I thought it was important to address his concerns."
"This infuriated me," Verner says. "This is the most important development project in Spokane in our lifetimes. There is a lot of public interest in it and we don't have adequate information yet as a council to make a decision. We have a public hearing scheduled for May 14 and I'm being asked on May 4 to forecast my vote? This is a particularly bad backroom deal before we know the details of a project we are expected to endorse."