Plans for a downtown Spokane sports stadium appeared to die Monday when the Spokane City Council deflated a political football that they believed had been overshadowing the need for less-crowded schools and libraries.
The council voted 5 to 2 Monday afternoon to table a $31 million city bond measure, citing concerns for pitching the construction of a sports facility when residents are more concerned about property crime and public safety. The tax request had been hitched to two others from Spokane Public Schools and the libraries for about a half billion dollars to build new middle schools, renovate aging ones and overhaul the city’s library system.
The unexpected vote laid bare the competing interests of Mayor David Condon, who has lobbied for the downtown stadium as a signature attraction near Riverfront Park, and those of councilmembers who said they were responding to a public that had concerns stretching beyond the downtown core.
“It was a surprise to very senior staff at the city, and that’s unfortunate,” Condon said in an interview Monday night at City Hall. “It was a surprise to our partners, who were learning about it a half an hour ago.”
Condon said he wouldn’t advise his staff to lobby the council, which has until Aug. 7 to finalize its bond measure for the November ballot.
The council had been forced into making quick decision by members of the school board, Stuckart said, who, under suggestion from the city’s point person on the proposal, pivoted from making their own request for additional money to build the downtown stadium.
“They made the choice to toss it over to us, and quite frankly, when I had school people calling me this weekend, it was pretty weak that they couldn’t get their own board to make a decision,” Stuckart said. He declined to name who had been, in his words, “pressuring” him on the subject.
Condon said the council’s action effectively kills the possibility of adding playfields at Dwight Merkel Sports Complex, which would have been built on the site of Joe Albi Stadium. The downtown stadium proposal, if accepted, would have called for demolition of the 1950s era facility in northwest Spokane and financed six new sports fields next to a new middle school.
Instead, the school board will ask taxpayers to approve a bond that includes enough money to downsize and update Joe Albi. The city will honor its part of the agreement to give land to the school district to pay for middle schools at two new sites, and the district will ask voters to also fund construction of a new middle school next to the rebuilt Joe Albi facility if its bond is successful.
Council members representing the northwest part of town said they hadn’t heard enough from the mayor and his staff to pitch a new 5,000-seat downtown stadium to voters.
“The feedback I’m getting is this is all about priorities,” said City Councilwoman Karen Stratton. “The libraries I can see, we need some upgrading. Schools, I can make that argument. But a stadium? Is that a priority?”
City Councilwoman Candace Mumm said residents still had questions about the facility itself, which was planned to be co-located with a new sports complex and the Spokane Arena.
“The neighborhood would like to know what that means,” Mumm said. “How does that impact our neighborhoods?”
City Councilmembers Kate Burke and Mike Fagan noted the price tag and said such money might be better spent on services for the homeless and increased public safety.
The mayor, who in the weeks leading up to the decision whether to place the issue on the ballot teased the possibility of professional soccer filling the stands on Saturdays, said the council’s actions lacked the sort of vision needed to push the city forward. He referenced the effort that led to Expo ‘74 taking over a previous industrial railyard in the center of town.
Stuckart pushed back, saying it was clear that public response for a downtown stadium showed that the public’s concerns lay elsewhere.
“I will stand up and argue to anyone that public safety is a bigger priority than a downtown stadium,” said Stuckart, who’s vying for Condon’s office in next year’s mayoral campaign.
The South Hill’s representatives on the council, Breean Beggs and Lori Kinnear, both voted against killing the stadium proposal.Voters should be allowed to choose whether they supported the project, they said, not the city council.
The councilis scheduled to meet Wednesday with representatives of the school and library boards to determine the final language for the other ballot measures. Beggs and Mark Anderson, associate schools superintendent, said the request could still be revived by the public at that meeting.
But Condon made it clear Monday he considered the idea, part of his pitch for molding downtown Spokane’s future during his final few years in office, finished by the City Council.
“It’s disappointing that the relationship has come to this point,” he said.