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Sports park by Albi has new legs

Spokane voters may get a second chance to vote on a sports complex near Joe Albi Stadium, but this time the city would ask for money.

The Spokane City Council on Monday heard arguments about an $11 million plan to build softball and soccer fields, a BMX track and skate park on land north of the stadium. But the city only has $4 million earmarked for the project by voters who agreed in 1999 to allow a sports complex to be built with the sale of park land.

Monday’s debate centered on how the land would be developed, not on how to pay for it. City Councilman Rob Crow, who has led the most recent effort to build the complex, is asking the council to signal its support for the plan in a vote next week. The council would decide in coming months whether to send the matter to voters.

Testimony revealed that some of the controversy remains that has derailed attempts to build the park since 1999. This time, however, the Northwest Neighborhood Council testified in favor of the plan.

The neighborhood council was sold on the proposal by a land trade with Fairmount Memorial Park that would allow 14 acres of the cemetery’s wooded unused land to become part of the park, said Jeff Stevens, president of the Northwest council.

“It secures an area that is already used regularly for recreation purposes,” Stevens said.

That same land trade worries supporters of Joe Albi Stadium, who testified that the five acres the city would give to the cemetery in the exchange would limit parking.

The most contentious issue was a battle between advocates of baseball and softball.

Little League officials argued baseball should be given preference because softball players already have a complex at Franklin Park.

“Why should a second softball field be built before a first baseball facility is built in this town?” asked Dan Peck, president of Spokane North Little League.

Supporters of Crow’s plan say softball can generate money to pay operating expenses and note that park leaders promoted the 1999 vote as a way to pay for softball fields.

“This is what Spokane voted on eight years ago,” said Bob West. “It’s been eight years in the offing and it’s time for a decision.”

Little League officials said the fields they use are in poor condition.

“We’re the second largest city in the state and we’ve got nothing,” said Linda Lyle, who has three grandsons in Little League.

While softball and baseball supporters were arguing among themselves, about 10 teenaged skateboarders thanked the council for including a skate park and BMX track in the plans. They testified that the Hillyard skate park is overcrowded and that the downtown skate park is frequented by drug dealers.

Michael Twelves said the sports fields are a fine idea, but that skate parks attract more people on a day-to-day basis than any kind of ball field. He noted that there’s no sports organization that advocates for skaters.

“We’re here on our own because we want this,” Twelves said.

After the hearing, the leaders of softball and baseball argued outside council chambers.

Several minutes of dialogue, however, softened their tone and they apologized. They said they would work together to bring back a mutually agreeable plan before the June 11 meeting. That could include remodeling the softball fields at Franklin Park for baseball.”We’re going to meet here in the middle and work things out,” said Fuzzy Buckenberger, commissioner for the Spokane Amateur Softball Association


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