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City Council approves advisory vote for sports stadium

Aug. 6, 2018 Updated Mon., Aug. 6, 2018 at 10:23 p.m.

Will Spokane high schools continue to play football at Joe Albi Stadium, or will they be playing at a new downtown stadium. On Monday, the Spokane City Council decided to let the voters have a say. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Will Spokane high schools continue to play football at Joe Albi Stadium, or will they be playing at a new downtown stadium. On Monday, the Spokane City Council decided to let the voters have a say. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane voters will have a voice in the location of a proposed new sports stadium, the Spokane City Council decided Monday night.

In a special meeting that lasted less than an hour, the council voted 5-1 to place an advisory vote on the Nov. 6 ballot on whether the Spokane Public Schools’ proposed stadium should be located at the current Albi Stadium site in northwest Spokane or on Public Facilities District land in the downtown area north of the Spokane River.

The vote is not binding on the school district.

The move comes a week after the council tabled an extra $10 million for a parking garage and $21 million to improve the Merkel Complex to the original $77 million city bond measure for libraries.

Two days later, in a joint meeting with the school board, the council heard from dozens of citizens on both sides of the issue. That led Councilwoman Lori Kinnear to sponsor the resolution approved on Monday.

The vote offers a respite for the council, which has seen the stadium issue dominate headlines.

“I would like to us focusing back on schools and libraries,” Stuckart said. “I hope we get back to talking about investing in our schools and libraries.”

Councilwoman Kate Burke cast the lone dissenting vote in Monday’s meeting. Councilwoman Candace Mumm was absent.

As part of the Spokane Public Schools’ $495.3 million bond measure, the district would build the new stadium at a total cost of $31 million. That cost would be the same whether the 5,000-seat structure is built in northwest Spokane or next to the Spokane Arena.

That issue drew a handful of comments Monday night from a crowd of about 30 people. Most were in favor of the downtown option.

“This is no longer about money, this is about location,” said Mark Richard, representing the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

Citing the proximity to the city core, Richard said that “to envision our youth filling downtown with their energy is exciting to me and our board.”

Moments later, lacrosse coach Brian O’Rourk and his two sons asked the council to allow voters to “give our student athletes to do more.”

For lacrosse players and other athletes that would mean the downtown option, which includes razing 68-year-old Albi Stadium and adding playing fields to the Merkel Complex.

“The fields at Merkel are a big part of this,” O’Rourke said.

Councilman Mike Fagan favored the downtown option, partly because he sees a stadium “as part of the whole package” that includes libraries, schools and reduced classroom sizes.

Fagan added that he’s heard from coaches and youth pastors who say that additional playing fields will expand the role of sports in mentoring youth.

For most council members, letting the voters have a say was the top priority.

Councilwoman Karen Stratton said that in the past week, she’s received about 40 emails from both sides of the issue.

“I still think there are considerable questions about additional costs if it’s downtown, and that hasn’t been addressed,” Stratton said.

“Hopefully this doesn’t overshadow the library bond … we desperately need to upgrade our libraries,” Stratton said.

Burke said she opposed the resolution because the stadium issue is still “lacking definitive answers.”

Along with Stratton, Burke said that the school board should have placed the bond on its own bond measure.

“The school board should have done this … this is not our issue,” Burke said.

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