Spokane Public Schools is willing to consider building a new high school sports stadium downtown, but only if “circumstances change significantly,” according to board President Jerrall Haynes.
Until that happens, Haynes said the board is committed to following an advisory vote in 2018 that recommended the new facility be built at the current Albi Stadium site in northwest Spokane.
However, proponents of a downtown stadium are ready to meet with board members and offer firmer numbers on the potential savings as well as revenue, Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner said this week.
“I agree with Jerrall, and the quest is now to really sketch some of this out,” said Baumgartner, who floated the idea in an email sent to board members on Jan. 10.
Since then, the former state legislator said he’s received widespread support “from across the political spectrum.”
“A lot of folks would like to know what they can do to help,” said Baumgartner, who also said he was confident of obtaining legislative backing for enhancements to the $31 million stadium.
The stadium issue is a tricky one for the school board, which more than a year ago issued the go-ahead for the Albi alternative. That project is still in the early design phase, giving the board some time before it must act.
However, the board must weigh the potential savings against possible voter backlash should it ignore the results of the advisory vote, which showed 64% support for the Albi site. That backlash could come soon should the cash-strapped district opt to float a supplementary bond later this year.
On the other hand, Baumgartner argues, wouldn’t voters applaud the board for endeavoring to save taxpayer funds?
How much? That remains to be seen.
At the same time, Baumgartner and officials from the Spokane Sports Commission have argued that the downtown stadium option would free the Albi site land for more playing fields adjacent to the Merkel Complex, creating a regional facility that would draw revenue from visiting athletes.
The board discussed the issue during a closed-door meeting on Jan. 15, but has taken no action or scheduled any meetings on the topic. The question wasn’t discussed at Wednesday night’s meeting.
“The board is trying to be very methodical and look at all angles,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Baumgartner said he’s received “affirming” feedback to his proposal and his contention that building a new stadium at the Albi site would be a “30-year mistake.”
“My belief is that there is enormous bipartisan, communitywide support for doing a better job of educating the public in building a stadium downtown,” Baumgartner said.
Funds for the $31 million stadium are already secure, as it was part of the $495 million capital bond that funded construction of six middle school buildings and other projects.
In one sense, the issue has come back to roost at the district’s downtown offices.
During summer 2018, as they finalized plans for the capital bond, several board members were concerned over the scarcity of downtown parking – or even whether a stadium should have been part of the larger bond.
The board punted the issue to the city, which put an advisory vote on the ballot asking constituents whether they wanted the $30 million stadium built downtown or at the Albi site.
The parking issues were resolved in October – too little, too late for some who filled out their ballots early.
Many others were so confused they didn’t vote at all. The stadium results showed 7,388 people who returned ballots chose not to vote on the stadium location.
“That’s not the way you do things successfully in Spokane for a project of that size,” Baumgartner said.
However, that 64% has loomed large in every decision since the 2018 election.
A month after the vote, in December 2018, representatives of the Spokane Public Facilities District and the Spokane Sports Commission approached the board with a new proposal: to join the Sportsplex project, which at that point was still in the preliminary design phase.
Citing the outcome of the advisory vote, the board declined to even allow the PFD to research the potential savings and approved the Albi option.
Baumgartner’s proposal coincides with another stadium-related issue now facing the board. On Wednesday, it gave final approval to the Monsters of Rock 2020 event.
That meant a one-time exemption to allow alcohol sales on school property, which gave rise to the opportunity to raise revenue from similar events.
According to district officials, that in turn would require some enhancements to the current vision for the stadium.
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