Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

United Soccer League rep coming to Spokane to push for downtown stadium to replace Albi

Joe Albi Stadium, is seen during the start of the football game between North Central and East Valley Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The stadium is slated for replacement under the school bond passed recently. Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner is pushing the Spokane School Board to consider building a new stadium in downtown Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Allen Jim Allen The Spokesman-Review

A stadium in downtown Spokane, if it’s ever built, could be home to more than one kind of football.

On Tuesday, Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner and a representative from the United Soccer League will hold a news conference to express interest in establishing a team in Spokane – but only if a new stadium is built downtown.

At the same time, the league plans to offer design concepts for a stadium that would accommodate soccer as well as high school football.

“The United Soccer League has an outstanding track record of helping develop multi-use sports stadiums,” Baumgartner said in a statement issued Thursday morning by the county treasurer’s office.

The news conference will begin at 10 a.m. at the Wonder Building, 835 N. Post St. The public is invited to attend and ask questions.

Baumgartner also said he hopes school board members will attend.

Plans adopted more than a year ago by Spokane Public Schools would put a facility at the current Albi Stadium site in northwest Spokane.

Citing an advisory vote held in November 2018, the school board had moved ahead with that option.

However, that project is still in the early design phase, a lull that Baumgartner has used to urge the board to reconsider.

Backed by what he calls “a growing bipartisan coalition of elected officials and community leaders,” Baumgartner has reached out to the board to “avoid making a 30-year mistake” by building a new 5,000-seat football stadium in northwest Spokane.

Adding that he has no financial interest in the USL, Baumgartner said Thursday he’s motivated “as a parent, taxpayer and as a concerned community leader” to push for the downtown site, just east of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

“I also care about the fiscal responsibility and economic growth of our community,” Baumgartner said.

Money for the $31 million project was part of a $495 million capital bond approved in November 2018 by Spokane voters.

In his appeal to the School Board, Baumgartner estimated a downtown stadium could save more than $2 million through reduced operational, capital and financing costs. But Baumgartner has yet to provide a breakdown of that potential savings.

Baumgartner hopes the possibility of a professional soccer franchise would further tip the scales toward a downtown location.

“Of course, a downtown stadium would be first and foremost about supporting local high school sports and the USL understands that, but they are very excited about the possibility of bringing big-time professional soccer to the Spokane area.”

At Tuesday’s news conference, USL chief operating officer Justin Papadakis plans to display several stadium prototype designs that can be used for high school football and lacrosse, in addition to soccer.

“They have a great track record and outstanding 5,000- to 10,000-spectator capacity stadium designs for $10 million to $25 million,” Baumgartner said.

Based in Tampa, Florida, the USL has targeted the Spokane area as a future market for professional soccer. The USL has partnered with communities including Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to bring forward mixed-use, stadium-anchored development projects.

“I have no doubt that a downtown location will save taxpayers millions and making the stadium home to a USL professional soccer team when it is not in use by high schoolers will further strengthen Spokane’s economy and lifestyle offerings,” Baumgartner said.

“The USL has made it very clear that they are only interested in coming to Spokane if there is a modern stadium in our downtown core,” Baumgartner said.

The board has held no public meetings on the issue and urged caution in an op-ed piece that ran in The Spokesman-Review on Jan. 26.

The stadium issue hasn’t come up since December 2018 when the school board was approached by the Spokane Public Facilities District. Asked by the PFD to pool resources for a new stadium across the Spokane River from downtown, a majority of the board deferred to the 64% of voters who preferred the Albi site.

“If we are to go against the voters’ decision, we run the risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in voters going against bonds in the future,” board member Jerrall Haynes said at the time.

At Tuesday’s event, Baumgartner also plans to discuss positive developments regarding state legislative funding support for additional youth sports fields at the Albi site.

“In locating the new stadium downtown we really have an opportunity to save taxpayers, provide a better venue for high-schoolers, increase youth recreational opportunities and bring exciting high-level soccer to our community,” Baumgartner said in the release.