Some civic leaders wish they’d thought of it sooner: an indoor stadium on the north bank of the Spokane River.
It’s not too late, said Spokane Sports Commission President Eric Sawyer, who said he believes that a combined Spokane Sportsplex and downtown stadium could save millions of dollars as well as several hundred parking spaces east of the Arena.
“The idea actually makes a lot of sense,” Sawyer said.
The Spokane Public Facilities District is in the preliminary planning phase of the already-funded $42 million indoor Sportsplex.
But now the PFD is taking a look at how to meld its Sportsplex project with a replacement for Joe Albi Stadium in the heart of the city.
Combining the two projects “is an idea I definitely think is worth exploring,” Stephanie Curran, chief executive officer of the PFD, said Tuesday afternoon.
Sawyer has asked for an audience next month with the Spokane Public Schools board of directors, which will meet Wednesday night to begin planning the details of capital projects following the passage last month of a $495 million bond.
Included in that bond is $31 million to replace 67-year-old Albi Stadium. Also on the Nov. 6 ballot was an advisory vote that offered two replacement sites for a new 5,000-seat outdoor stadium.
The voters were clear: 64 percent preferred rebuilding on the Albi site – not downtown. But the final decision belongs to the school board.
“Basically, we are just a facilitator, but what we are saying is, ‘Could you take a look at this as a third option?’ ” Sawyer said Tuesday.
Noting that the bond passed by a 2-to-1 margin, Sawyer said that “What we took away from the November ballot is that if voters support the partnership between the city and the school board, why wouldn’t they support a partnership between the school board and the PFD?”
Sawyer hopes to have firm numbers next week, but he said the combined project could save as much as $10 million – even after rolling an artificial turf onto the Sportsplex floor.
Sawyer sent an exploratory email last week to school board President Sue Chapin, who replied that “once the Board has had an opportunity to have our discussion about whether to follow the advisory vote or consider other options we will know whether a presentation of a new option should be scheduled.”
Wednesday’s special meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at the district’s downtown offices, is expected to focus on proposed project schedules for items passed in the 2018 bond as well as the 2015 bond.
The Stadium Replacement Project is on the agenda, though it’s unclear whether the board will make any determination regarding the stadium site.
The board has time on its side. Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson said, “We could wait a year (on a final stadium decision) and still stay on schedule” for the other capital projects on the bond.
Sawyer said a combined project makes sense on several counts. The Sportsplex is expected to hold about 3,500 seats. It would need an additional 1,500 to match the school target for an outdoor stadium.
The roof would need to be 15 to 20 feet higher for football, while soccer matches would require a wider field.
Bottom line: The Sportsplex building would be larger than originally envisioned, but only slightly. Renderings aren’t available, but Curran and Sawyer believe it would grow only a few feet north.
Moreover, Curran said, parking concerns associated with the original stadium “would be completely resolved.”
Curran added that it would be easy for the PFD to move forward with current plans for a stand-alone Sportsplex.
“I think we owe it to the community to explore this option,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Sawyer said that while some fans might balk at moving football indoors, he wondered how many more outdoor events could be affected by smoke from late-summer wildfires.
“Is smoke the new norm for Spokane?” he said.
For Sawyer and Curran, the idea of a combined facility was always in the background. Had voters embraced a downtown site and the school board went along, it would have shared a border with the Sportplex on vacant land north of Riverfront Park and east of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
Curran said her team at the PFD “had conversations” among themselves during the election season about the possibilities of a combined facility.
“However, the ballots were already out – the idea came a little too late,” said Curran, who added the combined project would be “very different from what was on the ballot.”
Some downtown stadium backers believe that confusion over the stadium issue affected the final outcome.
Two days after the election, one man posted a comment on The Spokesman-Review’s Facebook page that he misread the proposition and “thought it was about keeping the current stadium or building a new one in downtown.”
“I know I did and so did my wife, plus several other people I have talked to. Had we known that a new stadium was a sure thing and we were voting for the new location, then of course we would have picked downtown.”
As it did before the election, that choice rests with the school board.
“We just want the school board to give us a green light and listen to what we’re proposing,” Sawyer said.
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