A document obtained by the Inlander
through a public records request raises questions over the city of Spokane’s claim that it’s legally obligated to make a controversial $318,000 payment to hotel magnate Walt Worthy to cover the cost of environmental clean up at a property now occupied by the Davenport Grand Hotel.
Earlier this month, members of Spokane City Council expressed concerns
that the payment negotiated between Mayor David Condon and Worthy violated the Washington state constitution’s prohibition on gifting public funds to private individuals and businesses.
The Condon administration has justified the payment, arguing that because the city had previously owned the property it could legally be held liable for environmental contamination. Paying for the cleanup, according to the argument, would relieve the city of liability.
But the agreement that transferred the property from the city to the Public Facilities District undermines that justification. The agreement, negotiated in 2003, states that the district, which later sold the property to Worthy in 2013, is responsible for any legally required environmental clean up on the 120,000-square-foot property.
“Why sign agreements to sell someone property and say we’re not responsible for any environmental clean, and then 10 years later say, no we’re responsible?” says Council President Ben Stuckart, who has been critical of the proposed payment. “What’s the the point of that agreement?”
Stuckart says he has not seen a complete legal analysis of the issue from the City Attorney’s Office. The council’s policy advisor is currently examining the legality of the payment to Worthy, he says.
Mike Fagan, the council’s most conservative member, has similar concerns.
“It is the PFD who purchased that land and the PFD needs to step up take care of that land,” he says. “The PFD can afford this. The city should not pick up the slack for this project.”
Kevin Twohig, PFD CEO, says that the district has already paid out $1.2 million to clean up the property that’s been polluted with petroleum, lead and other toxic chemicals. In 2013, the district sold the property to Worthy for $6.6 million. As part of the agreement, the PFD was relieved of environmental remediation at the site
. Twohig says he doesn’t have any knowledge of the payment negotiated with Worthy and the city.
When asked about the sales agreement between the city and the PFD, Brian Coddington, city spokesperson, responded in an email saying the issue was still being analyzed.