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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Albi issue drives District 3 candidates

If all politics is local, the seven candidates for Spokane City Council in District 3 were handed an issue in their own back yards this summer by Mayor Jim West.

A proposal to sell Joe Albi Stadium and the surrounding property lighted a fire under some northwest Spokane voters who consider the facility a community asset that ranks with Riverfront or Manito parks, said several candidates, who are going door-to-door looking for votes. The plan has the ability to unite voters from neighborhoods as diverse as West Central, just north of downtown, and Indian Trail in the suburban northwest.

The candidates are diverse in terms of background, resumes and experience. But they’re united on the Albi issue. None wants it sold.

The fact that the current council voted last week to scuttle any sale proposal hasn’t really put out the flames for many voters, candidates said this week.

“A lot of people are asking, ‘What are you going to do about Joe Albi Stadium?’ ” said Nancy McLaughlin, among the seven candidates in the Sept. 20 primary seeking the two slots on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Some voters are disgusted with the suggestion to sell the stadium, or the description by some sale proponents of the facility as “aged and decrepit,” she said. Others understand the city is in a budget crunch but don’t think Albi should be a “sacrificial lamb for budget problems.”

Candidate Judith Gilmore said she spends much of her time with voters talking about Albi. Some of it is nostalgia, she believes, because Albi has been tied to so many Spokane families’ high school experiences for 50 years.

“But some of it is the North Side growing angry that they’re losing their pools and their open spaces,” Gilmore said. They’re angry that city residents in 1999 approved a youth sports complex near the stadiumthat has yet to be built.

Many voters realize that the council’s recent decision isn’t the end of the debate and “are waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said. The stadium will need renovations, both to its field surface and its structure, and the city’s budget is tight. Spokane schools have agreed to play football on the field for one more season, but the city has an ongoing dispute with Brett Sports over the condition of the turf.

Steve Corker, who served on the council from 2000 to 2003, says the city missed an opportunity to protect and preserve Albi when it didn’t make the stadium part of the Public Facilities District, which was set up for the Veterans Memorial Arena and later expanded to include the Convention Center and Opera House.

Selling Albi and the surrounding property to developers who want to put in houses and apartments is a bad idea, Corker contends, because it will exacerbate traffic problems.

As the only candidate with service on the council, Corker is stressing experience, saying it’s important that the replacement for two-term councilwoman Cherie Rodgers “hit the ground running” and be familiar with issues like Albi.

Those without Corker’s experience are stressing new perspectives while calling for more innovative approaches than the city has thus far shown.

“The city needs to do something unique with Albi,” said Joyce McNamee.

Gilmore wants the city to work closer with the Bretts and take advantage of their knowledge of sports.

Daniel Day, a first-time candidate, says the facility is underused, and the city needs to book more events and get more people out there. His suggestion: How about snowmobile races in the winter?

First-time candidate Keith Springer cites West’s call for the sale of Albi as a key factor in jumping into the race. The former airline pilot is a regular at Albi’s high school games, and thinks the city could save money with just a partial replacement. Most football is played between the 30-yard lines, he said; why not just replace the most worn areas.

“It still needs improvements, but it’s in a lot better shape than anybody ever told you,” said Springer, who hasn’t been able to get a full tour of the stadium but has scanned the turf from the stands with his binoculars.

Barbara Lampert brings up the 1999 ballot measure, which passed nearly 4-to-1, and says the public has already spoken, and directed the city to turn the area into a sports complex.

Albi may play into the bigger concern voters have over parks and pools, several candidates say. Strapped for finances and facing high maintenance costs, the city Parks Department closed the outdoor Shadle Park pool last year, and the indoor pool is likely to be removed when the high school is renovated in 2007.

The outdoor pool was replaced with a spray pad, originally scheduled to open sometime this summer but is now set to open Wednesday. Meanwhile the department is looking at other options for replacing pools all over the city.

“I like the spray pads idea; it lessens liability,” McNamee said. “But I don’t agree with huge grandiose plans with a lot of new pools.”

When not talking about Albi or pools, the voters who are paying attention seem to be concerned about the underlying problems with the city’s budget. Easy solutions to a budget that has expenses growing faster than revenues have evaded the current council for years, and can elicit only generalizations from the candidates.

Most are cool to a tax increase. “No government has ever taxed itself into prosperity,” Day contends.

McNamee said she wouldn’t favor lifting the lid on property taxes but would consider a special bond issue directed only for police or fire as a way to avoid further cuts in public safety.

Instead of raising taxes, most candidates focus on the supply side of revenues, saying the city should do a better job of attracting and nurturing business as a way of improving the jobs and sales that send taxes to its coffers.

But taking care of development can mean different things to voters in different parts of the district. Close to downtown, where older neighborhoods struggle to dig out of economic hard times, development is almost always a plus because it means channeling growth onto abandoned or underused properties. But in the mushrooming northwest suburbs, it has to be tempered with the fact that voters are concerned about roads and intersections that already can’t handle the growing number of cars.

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