COEUR d’ALENE — The city opted to move ahead Wednesday with a plan to purchase and develop the Atlas Mill site despite hesitation from ignite cda, its business partner, and a city staff report that warned buying the land may not provide the brisk financial return the city expected.
The City Council’s decision came two days before a deadline to withdraw $100,000 in earnest money ponied up by the city as a placeholder for the deal.
Council members as well as board members from ignite cda, the city’s urban renewal agency which plans to partner with the city in the mill site purchase, met in executive session following the afternoon workshop to discuss options.
When it reopened the public meeting a half-hour later, the council unanimously voted to pursue the project that would turn the former mill site along Seltice Way near the Atlas Road intersection into a 47-acre multiple use site that would include residential and commercial properties as well as public riverfront and parks.
The 47-acre site belongs to a company called Bad Axe, which purchased the Brownfield site after the Stimson mill closed there a decade ago.
Tony Berns, executive director of ignite cda, said the mill site project is the kind of enterprise his organization is suited for, but he cautioned that it would take more analysis before ignite cda is willing to commit $8 million to the site, without a better chance to more quickly pay off its investment.
“(It) is a natural fit for ignite cda’s business model,” Berns said. “It makes sense … to be a partner in this initiative.”
His agency, however, was looking for a clear path to success and finding one will require further scrutiny, he said.
“Given more time for analysis (and, or) input,” Berns said, “a viable path should be attainable.”
City finance director Troy Tymesen echoed Berns’ reservation in a staff report to the City Council.
Reducing the size of residential and commercial space, adding more green space, and reserving more than a half-mile of Spokane River waterfront for public use — as one of the development models suggested — would put the brakes on a quick financial return.
“I’m OK with a slow payback,” Tymesen said.
However, he said, “It turns into a cash flow problem.”
One of the options discussed Wednesday was floating a general obligation bond before voters that would allow taxpayers to invest in the endeavor. That would alleviate some of the pressure on ignite cda, while maintaining the plan for less development and more public access to the river.
Options will take time to flesh out, and the city wants to pursue the second phase of environmental assessment, doing chemical analysis of material found at the site, which will take another four months.
As a caveat in its effort to push forward, councilmembers will ask Bad Axe to postpone until next year the closing date that was slated for December.
“The sale is contingent on the owner accepting the closing date,” Council member Amy Evans said. “We will have to go back and see if Bad Axe is willing to accept that condition.”
Evans said the city’s interest in the property has not waned.
“There is great interest in looking further into this opportunity,” Evans said. “We have to be responsible.”
Even if Bad Axe refuses to delay the sale, the city would get its initial $100,000 back and would likely make another offer.
“That $100,000 would go back to us, and we’d be back at square one,” Councilman Dan Gookin said.
A public hearing scheduled for Sept. 19 for a proposed annexation of the Atlas Mill site property has been delayed and a new hearing date has not been scheduled.