A proposal by embattled Mayor Jim West to sell Joe Albi Stadium was rebuffed on Monday by an increasingly independent Spokane City Council.
The vote came as opponents of the mayor gathered signatures for a recall election.
The council voted 6-1 to reject a resolution declaring Albi as surplus property and providing for its sale after nearly a dozen residents made pleas to keep and even improve the stadium.
City resident Paul Hyndman called for the creation of a Friends of Albi Stadium group to save the stadium.
Karen Bell, of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, said, “There are some things that are priceless.” She asked the council members to be visionary in their thinking about Albi’s future.
Susie Klemme, a South Side resident, called on the council to consider the value of the stadium as a high school football venue. “How many children have stayed in school because of sports programs?” she said.
James Albi, cousin to the stadium’s late namesake, suggested enclosing the stadium for year-round use, possibly with a removable “air building.”
“Why not renovate it for a fraction of the cost of a new stadium?” he asked.
Only Councilman Brad Stark, who sponsored the resolution on behalf of the mayor, voted in favor of the sale. He said the cost of operating and maintaining the stadium is too great of a burden on the city’s ailing general fund budget, which is facing possible cuts for the second year in a row next year.
Stark on Monday sought to table the sale resolution, but lost council support after members of the public asked that the sale proposal be killed outright.
Public opposition to selling Albi clearly played a hand in the lopsided vote.
Two candidates for City Council seats this fall said opposition has been nearly unanimous among the voters they talked with during door-to-door campaigning in the northwest part of the city.
Councilwoman Mary Verner said she and other council members had received a lot of calls, e-mail messages and comments against the sale. Plus, the financial benefit to the city “just doesn’t pencil out,” she said.
She charged that West has been seeking to give two developers an inside track on the proposed purchase through a series of private meetings.
The stadium and its 89.6 acres were recently appraised at $2.3 million as a tract for up to 700 single-family homes. The appraisal included deductions for demolition of the stadium and construction of street improvements at Wellesley Avenue and Assembly Street.
The mayor wanted to take the money and pay off $1.4 million of bonded debt incurred to make improvements at the stadium, including widening of the field in 1996 to accommodate the Spokane Shadow soccer team.
Team owner Bobby Brett has sought $450,000 to terminate his lease that runs through 2011.
Stark also is sponsoring a separate measure to terminate the lease with Red Card LLC, which operates the Shadow team under Brett.
Brett appeared before the City Council during its afternoon briefing and told them that opportunities to create a broader sports complex at Albi have been lost because the city dragged its feet on putting improvements into the stadium.
“As far as we are concerned, that project is dead,” he said of the sports complex. Potential partners to a multipurpose sports complex, including Eastern Washington University football, have been lost.
Voters in 1999 gave an 81 percent approval to a proposal to spend $3.5 million for sports facilities on the grounds adjacent to the stadium, but the Park Board last year declined to spend the money because the project had escalated in cost and the parks department would likely be required to pay for $500,000 in traffic improvements at Wellesley and Assembly.
Councilman Bob Apple has called for suspending the requirement that the sports complex pay for traffic improvements. He said selling Albi would be a “horrible mistake.”
Sale of Albi would have netted the city only $389,000 after costs associated with the sale and demolition were paid.
“Albi does have debt problems, but it is irreplaceable,” said Councilman Joe Shogan.
Councilman Al French said the 1950 stadium has been an “orphan child” for too long and needs a new future.
Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers said, “I would equate selling Albi to selling Manito Park.”
Rodgers last spring led the council in calling for West to resign amid sexual misconduct and abuse of power allegations. Last week, the state Supreme Court gave a green light to proponents of a scandal-triggered recall of West to gather petition signatures.
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