Local legislators are demonstrating a rare, refreshing and encouraging bipartisan spirit on companion bills that authorize about $15 million for the proposed Library Square development in downtown Vancouver. House Bill 1306 — sponsored by Democrats Sharon Wylie and Jim Moeller and Republicans Paul Harris and Liz Pike — passed in the House on Saturday by an impressive 81-16 margin. The Senate has before it a related bill sponsored by Democrat Annette Cleveland and Republican Ann Rivers. Wylie and Cleveland are prime sponsors of the respective bills.
What caused this rare accord among politicians who belong to often bitterly divided parties? Their shared long-term vision. As Stevie Mathieu reported in Tuesday's Columbian, about $15 million for the proposed Library Square parking garage next to the new library will be paid through the state's Local Infrastructure Financing Tool program. HB 1306 actually does not authorize the expenditure, per se. That was accomplished by the Legislature in 2006. But the measure that passed last week would extend the expiration date of the LIFT financing instrument from June 30, 2039, to June 30, 2044. We hope it passes soon in the Senate as well.
That was a chronological adjustment, made necessary by the Great Recession, which delayed construction of the parking garage.
But here's where the long-term vision of the legislators comes into play: The Library Square project is projected over 25 years to return about $8 million in tax revenue to the city and about $22 million to the state. Those, of course, are projections, but they're solid enough to make legislators confident about their return-on-investment of about $2 to $1.
Also important -- before the long-term vision -- is an immediate need. Parking at the downtown library is insufficient, and that's why legislators and local planners need to do what they can to expedite the Library Square parking facility. About 1,500 people visit the library each day, but they're served by a 64-space parking lot, plus whatever can be found in curbside street parking. Many disabled or elderly visitors who use the parking lot find themselves about a block away from the library's entrance. Other library patrons have decided to have a driver (typically a friend or relative) drop them off at the door, and then go park, but that kind of service is not always available. The new parking garage will have 200 spaces, and construction could start next year. Ultimately, Library Square (formerly called RiverWest, just south of the library at Evergreen Boulevard and C Street) is expected to include apartments, office and retail spaces, a plaza and the underground parking garage.
These local concerns are well understood by local legislators, but what coaxed other lawmakers around the state to support HB 1306? They know how it could affect them, too. In Yakima, about 250 jobs were lost when a mill closed, but redeveloping that site (with a $25 million LIFT investment) could generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue over the next 30 years.
Good government involves more than managing. It also involves wise investments, and the LIFT program in Vancouver is a good one.