Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

Stalled Hawkins site carries $2 mil load


It's still there.

A large piece of real estate on the north side of the Moscow-Pullman Highway on the Washington side of the state line.

It's pretty close to the expansive Palouse Empire Mall which runs along the highway on the Idaho side.

Eight years ago, the piece of real estate was the focus of a retail vision: it would be the site of yet another shopping mall, but it would be in Whitman County.

Stores there could generate retail sales tax income which would provide a welcome boost for the area's economy and inject sales taxes into the county's revenue stream.

It also became the object of scorn.

A group of taxpayers, most of them in the Colfax area, sued to stop the project before it started.

They objected to the commitment the county commissioners had made to the project which was launched by Hawkins Companies LLC in Boise.

Status of the stagnated Hawkins project came up May 1 at the last joint meeting of the Whitman County commissioners and the Port of Whitman commissioners.

One of the reasons the Port wanted to know about the fate of the Hawkins project is because it is linked with more than $2 million in economic development funds which have been put aside by the county for use if and when the stateline site finds a buyer or renter.

The county has used revenue from its .09 tax for economic development to build up an account for if and when it has to live up to its commitments made when the Hawkins project was on the front burner.

Actually, the county's commitment has been reduced.

The county first signed May 28, 2008, to provide for $9.1 million in infrastructure for the Hawkins project.

That would cover roads, curbs and sidewalks and even a water treatment plant.

The commitment was expanded Jan. 3, 2012, to $15 million.

That expansion had a sunset clause which took it off the table two years later.

The intent of the commissioners at that time was to issue revenue bonds and pay off a portion of the county's commitment with tax revenue generated by the stores and businesses that went onto the Hawkins property.

The county now uses $100,000 from its .09 tax proceeds to award economic development projects selected by a blue ribbon panel.

This year the whole $100,000 went to The Center project located next to the library in Colfax.

The balance of .09 revenue goes into an .09 fund, part of which has been used to build up the the Hawkins project reserve.

At the May 1 county-port meeting, county commissioners noted the national change in retail doesn't bode well for development of brick and mortar retailers on the Hawkins site.

The property has value, and at some point it will be purchased for use, but the use probably will not be the retail tax generator which was envisioned eight years ago.

A logical prediction would be that Hawkins will eventually find a solution for its investment and come back to the county to propose a revision of the agreement.

Meanwhile, $2 million in county economic development funds sits idle, just like the property at the state line.


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