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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

No reason to start anew for stadium



 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)
Vince Grippi The Spokesman-Review

Why would anyone want to raze Albi Stadium?

Jim West says he wouldn’t mind.

Mike Prager’s recent story in The Spokesman-Review outlined a proposal by Spokane’s mayor to sell the venerable stadium and some surrounding land, using the proceeds to help develop facilities near a proposed sewage-treatment plant in the East Central neighborhood.

This is ludicrous.

Spokane is a fairly large town, but the sports community is a small one, with tight interconnections. And the prep sports family is even smaller.

For more than 50 years, that family has been connected through Albi Stadium.

Seeing the lights in the distance from the bus. Stretching near the locker rooms above the field. Coming down the ramp. The grass stains, replaced by the turf burns. The crowds, especially the large ones from games with your rival. Trudging up the ramp after a loss, or almost dancing, helmet held high, after a win.

That — and more — is what Albi’s meant to 50 years of high school athletes. Unique experiences that will be lost, never to be replaced. Certainly not by a cookie-cutter aluminum-seating football field where Playfair used to stand.

Next to a sewage-treatment plant.

This is politics, pure and simple. The sewage-treatment plant is a hard sell with the neighborhood. A sports complex would make it easier. Albi would be sacrificed to pay the bill.

Is today’s Albi perfect? No. It shows its age. But with a little work, and a little money, it could be a first-class football and soccer facility again.

It seats 20,000. It has great sight lines. The lights are TV quality. There’s room for parking. Money has been put into the press box and concession stands.

And, despite a lack of care the past few years, the infrastructure is solid.

If we lose it, we will never see the likes of it again.

Sure it needs new turf, Field Turf probably. New locker rooms. More work on the press box. Paved parking. Items that cost money.

About what it would cost to build the new, smaller facility West is talking about.

It would probably take a bond to build a new stadium. Going into debt to replace a stadium that was a gift more than 50 years ago and the city owns free and clear today.

And would the voters even go for it? After all, they passed a ballot issue in 1999 to fund a sports complex near Albi.

Anyone played there yet?

One argument used against Albi is that it’s past its prime, that the big events, such as WSU football games, are gone and will never come back.

But what if it were fixed up, given a Field Turf surface, better locker rooms, other improvements? Could we attract the Seahawks for a summer scrimmage? How about Franklin Graham again? Eastern football?

Pie in the sky? Maybe, but no more than the idea the new place would draw national and regional events. You don’t think promoters bidding against Spokane wouldn’t use the sewer-treatment plant — of course they wouldn’t use a more scatological term — against us?

And would the Playfair site — next to a sewage-treatment plant — be a better place for the long-promised softball complex than near Albi?

Neighborhood groups near Albi haven’t been happy about the stadium for years, and the new softball complex would add more traffic and congestion.

But the stadium opened in 1950, long before almost anyone now living in the neighborhood moved in. And the area has been hosting youth sports on the Dwight Merkel complex for almost as long.

And if the idea is to replace the stadium with homes, what impact would that have on congestion in the area?

That’s probably a moot point anyway. What developer would want the site? The 75 or so acres are sandwiched between a cemetery and the Veterans hospital. What’s the major selling point, that the neighbors are quiet?

Albi Stadium is not past its prime. It has its faults and it is not self-supporting, costing the city a couple of hundred thousand a year to minimally maintain. But like a 45-year-old man who has a few extra pounds, its heart is sound.

Given the right care, the type of care the Bretts gave it before and would give it again if the city would make a deal, it can continue for years building memories for the youth of this town.

“Everything we are doing is kicking the tires,” West told Prager.

In other words, he’s floating a trial balloon.

It should be shot down.

Let’s not let the old stadium be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.

Save Albi. It’s worth it.

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