Going out on a limb to preserve a community gem

November 21, 2015

As you may have heard, the Sisters of the Holy Names are proposing to sell their 65-acre property within the city of Spokane. The mainly wooded land is along nearly a mile of the Spokane River just south and west of the TJ Meenach Bridge. This is where the nuns lived and where Sister Paula Turnbull has her art studio.

On July 1, the Sisters sent out an offering memorandum seeking offers to buy, lease, or partner with the Sisters on the site. Several people and groups approached INLC worried that this community gem would be developed. Many people expressed the desire to see this land – at least the shoreline and forested areas – preserved for public access. Others thought that the existing buildings would be a good location for a residential treatment facility or a community center. There were many, many ideas of what to do with the land, but there was no one willing to step up and make an offer on behalf of the community.

On September 15, Inland Northwest Land Conservancy submitted a proposal to purchase that property from the Sisters of the Holy Names. That offer presented INLC’s vision of preserving approximately 50 to 55 acres for public benefit, including extending the Centennial Trail, expanding walking paths, and establishing butterfly and bird natural areas. The proposal also included INLC’s goal of using the existing buildings for betterment of the community. While INLC submitted the proposal, it really is a collaboration that requires the involvement of many partners.

Initially INLC was contacted by a veterans group that was interested in the buildings, but not the land. INLC was next contacted (mid-August) by a concerned conservation coalition that did not want to see the land developed, but was unwilling to take the lead in such an effort. Between mid-August and the September 15 proposal due date INLC spoke with more than 25 individuals and organizations about the feasibility of presenting a collaborative offer to the Sisters.

During this process I was introduced to Mark Pinch, “retired” Senior Partner of NAI Black. Mr. Pinch comes with a deep background not only in large real estate transactions, but multiple conservation deals and partnerships in the Spokane area. Mark listened to my outline, the result of the weeks of conversations with other groups, and agreed to be INLC’s real estate counsel and mentor my prospectus proposal to the sisters on behalf of INLC. Mark Pinch, his assistant Nancy Brown, and INLC Board President Carl Griffin helped me develop the proposal that INLC submitted on September 15.

INLC is working with several local service organizations that are interested in purchasing the buildings and up to 10 acres of land. All partners are interested in preserving the shoreline and the natural beauty of this property and ensuring public access.

The Sisters timeline moving forward is not a normal real estate transaction process. Proposals were due September 15. The Sisters then invited representatives for four of those proposals to present in person to their selection committee in late September. INLC was one of the four entities invited, along with the Spokane Tribe of Indians and Spokane Tribal Communities, Spokane Catholic Charities, and Jim Franks of Greenway Construction. The proposals are now before the Sisters of the Holy Names home office in Quebec and we await their final decision.

For over 100 years, starting with the Olmsted Brothers’ vision, our community has valued green public space and our river – and the economic, recreational, and health benefits of both. INLC’s proposal responds to how the community values this unique property.

Admittedly, making a multi-million dollar purchase offer is a big step for INLC. But in my humble opinion, this project is exactly why INLC exists. Had INLC not stepped forward, the property – which is zoned high-density 55 – could end up in residential development with over 1,100 “doors.” Instead, we have the opportunity to redefine “highest and best use” for this gem.

Whether or not the Sisters select INLC’s proposal moving forward, I believe INLC made the right call. Our proposal leveraged collaborative efforts and made a strong statement that conservation can add and enhance economic value to the community.