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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Hoopfest agrees to stay in Spokane after city officials tentatively agree to pay 65% of security costs

UPDATED: Wed., June 5, 2019

Brooke Alvarado drives to the basket for the Nuggets during the 2018 Hoopfest. The Nuggets beat the Poopicorn Hoops to advance. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Brooke Alvarado drives to the basket for the Nuggets during the 2018 Hoopfest. The Nuggets beat the Poopicorn Hoops to advance. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

The city of Spokane is planning to cover 65% of Hoopfest’s public safety costs over concerns the famed 3-on-3 basketball tournament could leave downtown Spokane.

City law requires the city to charge most events the full cost of providing police officers and firefighters for security and medical care, unless the City Council or the mayor’s office makes an exception. Most events pay the full cost, except Hoopfest, Bloomsday and Pig Out in the Park, which normally pay 60% of public safety costs.

Under a new agreement that will come before the council June 17, the city would pay for 65% of public safety costs and Hoopfest would pay the remaining 35% for the next three years. Public safety costs for this year’s Hoopfest are estimated to be almost $260,000.

Carly Cortright, director of MySpokane for the city, said staff had heard Hoopfest was being courted by other venues, such as Northern Quest Resort & Casino. If Hoopfest moved to another venue or city, Spokane could lose an integral part of its identity and nearly $50 million in revenue the event generates for the community.

“It’s important that they stay in the city of Spokane,” she said. “It started on our streets and it needs to stay there.”

Hoopfest Executive Director Matt Santangelo said the cost of having police and firefighters on site has increased over the years and the tournament wants to avoid passing the cost on to participants or changing its business model. He said if increasing costs were to lead to a move, the demographic that participates in Hoopfest would probably follow the event to another venue or city.

He said Hoopfest wasn’t necessarily looking at other locations and hadn’t been approached by other venues, but could someday move if safety costs became too big of a burden.

“Our priority was to work it out with the city and to keep this thing sustainable and vibrant, and for this next three years,” he said. “We feel like the city has stepped up in a big way to keep us here.”

City Councilwoman Karen Stratton said she likely would support the agreement when it came before the council later this month but is concerned it could set a precedent for other events.

She said events like Hoopfest, Bloomsday and Pig Out in the Park have had a huge economic impact on Spokane’s downtown core and they are worth trying to save, but the city may have to deal with many other events requesting their security also be covered.

“If those events left the downtown core, it would be a great loss, so we should take a look at incentives,” she said.

Councilman Breean Beggs said Hoopfest’s economic and community impact is worth the city’s investment, and if other events indicate they’re having financial issues, he is willing to discuss it.

“I don’t think it sets a precedent and I’m willing to be flexible if it pencils out,” he said.

Cortright said the city is looking at how much it covers in costs for community events that have a large cultural or community impact on the city and may consider covering more. She said Bloomsday’s security agreement is only for one year, so the city can continue its discussion over next year’s security costs.

When an event pays for public safety, it pays for police at the event, fire personnel and public works trucks at major intersections. After several terrorism incidents in Europe, Cortright said trucks at intersections are now a best practice.

She said the city provides security for 32 events and only about a dozen pay no or partial costs.

Some community events, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march, Pride and the Lilac Festival’s Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, don’t have to pay security costs. Political events, such as the March for Science and the Walk for Life, only have to pay up to $500 because it’s a free-speech event.

Don Kardong, retiring Bloomsday race director, said the event has lost money the past three years and there are only so many costs they can cut before it begins to affect racers’ experiences.

“When you start saying where can we cut costs, at a certain point you’re not cutting fat, you’re cutting lean,” he said.

Kardong said if the city approves the agreement with Hoopfest, he hopes they’ll make a similar agreement with Bloomsday, which has faced similar issues.

Bill Burke, organizer for Pig Out in the Park, said he hopes the city will make a similar deal for his event, but even if the city decides not to, he doesn’t plan to take it elsewhere.

“We’re Pig Out in the Park, not Pig Out in the Valley,” he said.

While Pig Out in the Park doesn’t have the same yearly economic impact as Hoopfest, Burke said more than 100,000 people visit every year for free. He said security is one of the biggest costs for the event and he hopes the city will extend similar cost-sharing offers to other community events.

“They haven’t offered it to us yet, but if council approves it, you can count on us asking for the same thing,” he said.

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