City Council urges mayor to purchase east Spokane property to house police department, municipal court

Spokane officials have their eyes on an East Sprague Avenue property to bring the city’s Municipal Court and the police department to a new, shared home.

The Spokane City Council voted Monday night to urge Mayor Nadine Woodward and the city administration to negotiate a purchase of 3900 E. Sprague Ave. within the next six months. Although Woodward supports the concept of a shared facility, she believes the timing, cost and location need “a lot more consideration,” city spokesman Brian Coddington said in an email.

“The location doesn’t fully meet the need for a police headquarters and court location without acquiring adjacent property,” he wrote.

Owned and used by Premera Blue Cross, the 252,000-square-foot property is a campus of three office buildings and a parking garage, with tunnels that connect all three buildings and keycard access.

Premera is building a new campus in the Kendall Yards neighborhood, having filed plans with the city last fall for a four-story, 60,000-square-foot office building near the corner of Monroe Street and Summit Parkway. The insurance company, based in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, hopes to start construction this summer with eyes on a 2024 completion.

Several City Council members believe the East Sprague Avenue campus could serve as a new Municipal Justice Center to house Spokane police, court personnel, public defenders and prosecutors.

Monday’s resolution was expedited to the council’s agenda straight out of committee. While the property with furnishings is for sale for a “very reasonable price” that’s subject for negotiations, a potential competing offer added some urgency to Monday’s resolution, said Council President Breean Beggs. The property’s listed price is around $14 million, while city officials are also expecting costs with renovating the buildings to meet their needs.

“There’s not a lot out there that would accommodate police and (municipal) court,” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who has championed a shared justice facility in the last few years. “When this came up, we all jumped at it because … it’s really in prime condition, it a great location. Lots of parking.”

At the moment, SPD headquarters and Spokane Municipal Court are located adjacent to the Spokane County Courthouse at the shared county-owned public safety complex at 1100 Mallon Ave. 

Spokane lawmakers are exploring the move as police officials say the police department has outgrown its current location. The department also is split between different buildings. For example, the investigative unit is housed on Gardner Avenue, said police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys.

The county owns the building; Humphreys said the Spokane Police Department pays an annual maintenance and operations fee of around $400,000.

The Mallon Avenue building is around 50 years old and has structural issues, such as black mold, city officials say. Humphreys added that access and parking have been consistent challenges for all involved including employees who have to park in surrounding neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the council resolution notes the facilities used by Spokane Municipal Court are “inadequate” with “no opportunities at the current County campus to upgrade them.” Spokane Municipal Court started out of the county-owned complex in around 2010, said Howard Delaney, administrator for Spokane Municipal Court.

As long as the court has existed, the Mallon Avenue building that houses the court “was never big enough nor was it safe,” Delaney said. He cited a 37-page U.S. Marshals report that details the facility’s safety concerns, including how judges, the public and inmates being transported share public spaces.

As such, Municipal Court has sought a new space since around 2012, said Delaney, who added that requests for additional space in the county-owned complex have been rejected to date. As for operations and maintenance fees cost to the county, the court pays around $150,000.

Delaney strongly encouraged the City Council to support Monday’s resolution, saying that potentially purchasing the property puts “our destiny in our own hands” as opposed to relying on the county.

“I think this solution works for everybody,” Delaney said. “Is it perfect? No. Has any building I’ve ever seen out there been perfect? Again, the answer is no.

“Is it as close as we’ve ever gotten to perfect? Absolutely,” he continued. “I always say don’t let perfection be the enemy of success.”

Talks of a shared criminal justice facility concept came up in 2019 when Mayor David Condon was still in office.

Condon is now the vice president for Eastern Washington at Premera. A request for comment to Condon was deferred to Premera spokeswoman Courtney Wallace, who clarified that Condon is not part of the team handling the property sale.

For her part, Kinnear claims she has not spoken to Condon about the current property listing.

City Administrator Johnnie Perkins raised concerns similar to Woodward’s on Monday to the council’s Public Safety Committee, saying the property “doesn’t match the entirety of moving the police headquarters.”

It’s unclear just how far short it falls without a proper space analysis, Kinnear said. Meanwhile, Delaney said building a brand-new complex to accommodate police and Municipal Court would cost about $60 million.

While acknowledging “there isn’t a perfect place out there” Kinnear believes the Premera site is large enough to be expanded to potentially meet those needs in the future.

“There are some compromises that would happen if we pursued this,” she said, “but I’m confident it would really take care of a lot of problems you have with police headquarters in terms of overcrowding and certainly for Howard (Delaney) and (municipal) court.”

The council voted 5-2, with councilmembers Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle opposed.

Cathcart, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, said the first priority should be to find a new headquarters for SPD given the issues officers have had to deal with, particularly the mold. He also expressed concerns with transportation costs between the new site and the jail.

Cathcart also said he would like to see the city talk to the county and even Spokane Valley about possibly collaborating on a building that all parties involved could use.

“I think there’s just a lot of questions and a lot of things that we should be checking out first,” he said. “And that’s not to say that this location may not actually be a good one.”

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