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Sunday, March 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Let voters decide whether to build a downtown stadium

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 1, 2018, 6:15 p.m.

Joe Albi Stadium, in northeast Spokane, is seen on smoky day Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Joe Albi Stadium, in northeast Spokane, is seen on smoky day Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane stands at the kind of juncture that comes along once in a generation. Should the city raise $10 million to help build a new stadium and parking garage downtown?

We – and we’ll wager most people – are not yet certain what the correct answer is. But we are certain that the community deserves a more robust conversation about the question and the right to decide for itself in November. The City Council should put the question to voters.

In some ways, the current situation is reminiscent of where things stood 70 years ago when a growing city had to decide whether and where to build a stadium. Spokane chose to build on the Baxter hospital reservation in the then-sleepy northwest part of town. Spokane Memorial Stadium – later renamed Joe Albi – opened on Sept. 15, 1950. That day, The Spokesman Review called it “An investment in Spokane’s future.” The paper wrote, “This is a big day in the lives of many Spokane people. The city as a whole receives a gift of a football stadium, ample in size and modern in its appointments.”

That stadium served the community well for decades. Students and families forged precious memories there. Sometimes a game ended in cheers of joyous exultation, other times in tears. Fans hailed Elvis Presley and crammed in for many other musicians. Teens had their first kiss in the stands.

But time passes, and the stadium has not aged well in recent years. Spokane can fix it up or make a new investment in the future. The latter, however, is off the table now because a council majority doesn’t want voters to weigh in.

A new stadium near Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena could host athletic and other events. The parking garage would accommodate fans at night and downtown workers during the day. The complex would bolster a renaissance north of the river, transforming that part of downtown, just as Joe Albi transformed the community all those years ago.

If the new stadium goes up, Joe Albi would come down. In its place a modern middle school would rise, and recreation fields would expand at Dwight Merkel Sports Complex.

Voters might reject the city bond measure, though. Then a new middle school could still happen. It would just have to fit in a tighter space. Schools might also pump money into renovating Joe Albi to try to squeeze a few more years of use out of it.

Unless council reverses course, voters won’t get any say at all.

On Monday, the council voted 5-2 to table a bond measure that would have included the $10 million for a stadium parking garage. The South Hill’s representatives on council, Breean Beggs and Lori Kinnear, voted to give the people a choice. Council members from other districts voted against that choice. We hope that it was not merely parochial interest.

Council members didn’t ask to deal with this issue. The original idea had been for the school district to pay for the stadium and garage, but school board members were worried that a parking garage didn’t belong in a school bond. So they kicked it over to the council.

In the grand scheme of things, the $10 million for the garage was a small addition to the bonding packages for schools and libraries. Voters will decide whether to support measures in excess of $500 million.

There’s still time for at least two council members to change their minds. Council has until Aug. 7 to hold a special meeting to restore the bond measure with the $10 million for the garage. It should do so.

Too many politicians believe that changing one’s mind demonstrates weakness. On the contrary, admitting one’s mistake and correcting it is the highest political courage.

Give voters that opportunity to decide whether they want to make a new investment in Spokane’s future by funding a new downtown stadium and parking garage.

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