The debate over where to site a new stadium in Spokane sets competing visions and priorities against each other. On one side are longtime residents sentimental about Joe Albi Stadium and its history. On the other side are folks who prioritize downtown’s future. Both sides have legitimate priorities and good arguments. But both sides partly miss the fundamental question that should be in the fore in elected officials’ minds: Which solution maximizes benefit for the community as a whole and in its parts?
The debate over where to put a stadium has been going on for years now. Many Spokane residents might have thought it was decided after a nonbinding advisory referendum in 2018. It wasn’t.
Proponents of a more centrally located stadium are back more excited than ever. They want a multisport facility that could seat a few thousand people near the Arena and the Sportsplex project. High school teams could play in it, and so could a potential United Soccer League team. Other nights could see concerts and events. And all of it would be close enough to the downtown area to bring people to shops, bars and restaurants before or after a game.
The price appears to be right, too. Similar stadiums built to host USL teams across the country have cost $8 million to $13 million, not including design and permitting costs. The estimate for a new stadium at the old Joe Albi site is two to four times that.
With so much to gain, it’s appropriate to reopen the conversation and flesh out both options. The city and Spokane Public Schools need to reconsider which path forward will generate more good for the community. Which stadium would better host teams? Which stadium would better attract outside uses so that it doesn’t sit empty too many nights? Which stadium would better leverage existing parking assets?
The initial answers to those questions point to the downtown site, but there’s room for more discussion, and that discussion needs to take place before everything becomes locked into one plan.
Yet officials are hiding behind a flawed advisory vote to justify staying the course. That 2018 vote was grounded in sentiment and a lack of clear facts. It might have been better had it not even occurred. Officials abdicated their responsibility by kicking the whole matter out to voters without far more clarity about the costs, benefits and plans. Spokane elects leaders to dive deep into these sorts of issues and make smart choices.
Remember, too, that the vote was advisory. Today’s leaders should factor the result into their thinking, but they are not bound by it when a promising option becomes increasingly attractive and feasible.
Officials who fear that going against that advisory vote would sour voters on bond and other finance measures woefully underestimate the electorate’s intelligence. People are capable of understanding the difference between an ask for advice and an ask for dollars to build new infrastructure.
Joe Albi Stadium, as we know it, is history. For the future, policymakers can be confident in supporting whatever stadium generates the demonstrably highest value for the community.
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