It may be years before big crowds return to Joe Albi Stadium, but the city is gambling on soccer’s growing appeal.
Renovation of Albi to make room for the Spokane Shadow soccer club started last week at a cost of $1.9 million.
Workers are scraping tons of earth and gravel from the parking lot around the stadium and using it to raise the field by 6.5 feet.
The plan is to create the wider field needed for soccer.
Sports club owner Bobby Brett, who recently bought the Shadow, plans to put on the kinds of shows that have drawn big crowds to his minor league hockey and baseball games in Spokane.
“I think there’s a potential for soccer nationwide,” Brett said.
The team now plays at Spokane Falls Community College and expects 1,200 fans for each of its 12 home games this season.
“What we are trying to do is present a new sport,” Brett said. “With our track record, I think we are a pretty good bet.”
Rebuilding Albi into a facility that draws crowds is the key, he said. Brett’s organization is putting $100,000 into the current improvements.
After this summer’s renovations, Brett said he will promote more improvements including sky boxes and a musical-quality sound system to entertain fans during the matches.
He also envisions an indoor soccer field, an indoor hockey rink, jogging trails and picnic areas on the land surrounding the stadium.
Last week, the Spokane City Council approved a $1.5 million contract with Paras Construction of Spokane to raise the field and add new artificial turf.
When finished, Albi will sport a 250-foot-wide field compared with the old width of 191 feet.
The project essentially will undo a 1962 stadium expansion when the Albi field was lowered by 11 feet to make room for some 7,000 new seats and the large crowds attracted to Washington State University football games. Most of those seats are being removed in the current renovation.
WSU no longer plays at Albi, and the stadium was used primarily for high school football in recent years.
Excavation material from the 1962 project apparently was spread along the parking lot area, said Mike Kobluk, director of entertainment facilities for the city.
About a foot of that rock and dirt is being scraped up and returned to its original place on the stadium floor.
Crushed rock and drainage pipe will be laid into the base of the field, and porous asphalt will allow rainwater to drain into drywells below the field.
The design will eliminate an 18-inch crown at the center of the field, leaving the surface flat.
Hogan & Associates of Seattle, a firm specializing in sports fields, designed the project.
The Spokane School District is contributing $400,000. The city is paying for the rest, including $450,000 from the hotel-motel tax fund and about $1 million from a planned bond sale by the City Council.
Currently, the city is paying $95,000 a year on the purchase of property near the Opera House. Those payments end this year, and will be applied to the Albi bonds, so the general fund will not be depleted by the new bond issue, Kobluk said.
Brett has yet to finalize a lease for Albi next year. He currently holds leases in the Spokane Arena and at Seafirst Stadium for his hockey and baseball teams.
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