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Dave Nichols: Board should ignore advisory vote, build stadium downtown

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 8, 2018, 6:26 p.m.

Despite an overwhelming verdict, the Spokane Public Schools board should ignore the results of Tuesday’s advisory vote on the location of a new football stadium and build it downtown anyway.

The stadium is part of a $495 million bond to build three new middle schools which passed easily on Tuesday, by a similar margin to the advisory vote. So it’s going to get built.

But the advisory vote – which is nonbinding – signaled that voters preferred to keep the new stadium on the site of crumbling Joe Albi Stadium in remote northwest Spokane.

That thinking is misinformed and misguided – and should be summarily dismissed when it comes time to break ground.

With the Mead School District approving a new stadium earlier this year, Mead and Mt. Spokane will no longer have to schedule games at Albi.

That leaves Shadle Park, North Central, Rogers, Lewis and Clark and Ferris as primary tenants in the new stadium. If you take Mead district schools out of the equation, building on the Albi site primarily benefits one school – Shadle Park.

The downtown location is much more centrally located to all, including schools in the Valley that have their own stadiums but would have to play “road games” at the new joint as they do at Albi.

It’s a shame to look at pictures of sparsely attended games at Albi because folks don’t want to fight to get out there, the biggest complaint about Albi.

What’s to say that fans will come to a new stadium at the Albi site?

Remember the phrase, “Build it and they will come?” What if they won’t?

“Downtown makes the most sense,” said Herb Rotchford, Greater Spokane League/District 8 Director and a member of the Spokane Sports Commission.

“An advisory vote is just that,” he said. “It is predicated on a full understanding and knowledge of what’s being voted on.

“I don’t think we did a thorough enough job of marketing the project and providing enough descriptive information for voters to make an informed decision.”

The “we” he referred to was the school board, sports commission and city – all of which prefer the stadium downtown.

The city has precedent in ignoring this type of referendum. In 1971, a bond clearing the way for Expo ’74 was denied by voters before the city council approved a “business and occupation tax” on its own to allocate funds for the project.

There has been a lot of confusion surrounding the new stadium –where it would go, what the bond would provide and what problems, if any, would be caused.

Let’s get the first thing straight: Parking unequivocally wouldn’t be a problem at a downtown stadium. They wouldn’t have to build a garage. High school football fans wouldn’t have to pay for parking at games.

There’s plenty of parking at the Spokane Arena and in the immediate area. Any conflicts with the Chiefs or other events at the Arena would be minimal.

It’s just a nonissue.

A downtown football stadium – perfectly situated adjacent to the Arena and the recently approved indoor sportsplex – would complete a “sports district” within walking distance to the attractions on the south side of the river.

“We’ve got to quit acting like the river is where the city stops,” Rick Romero, who heads special projects for the city, said to The Spokesman-Review last month.

Next, the project wouldn’t be an eyesore, another issue cited. The new stadium is slated to host 5,000 spectators – not 30,000, which was the original capacity for Albi.

So while the term “stadium” has been attached to the project, the actual venue won’t look much different than facilities already in place at Gonzaga Prep, Central Valley or University.

Think Whitworth’s Pine Bowl – rather than Martin Stadium at Washington State.

Lastly, if the stadium is built downtown, that would allow for the building of one of the three new middle schools plus six new playing fields for Merkel Complex on the Albi site, which would allow for that venue to attract regional- and state-level events in all sorts of competitions.

If the stadium is rebuilt at Albi, that forces the middle school to be jammed into the south parking lot at Albi and nixes plans for the extra playing fields, which would preclude Merkel from hosting the more prominent events.

The board can delay the decision for a year without impacting the schedule, according to a source familiar with details.

If that means getting past the next election cycle so that school board members aren’t risking their political necks, so be it.

The stadium needs to go downtown. Period. We shouldn’t let a misinformed advisory vote impact a project that would positively affect the city and benefit the youth sporting community for the next 30 years.


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