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Downtown stadium proposal moves into the final phase as officials consider effects to Spokane Civic Theatre

Eric Sawyer, president and CEO of the Spokane Sports Commission, speaks during a March 2 presentation for a new downtown stadium.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Eric Sawyer, president and CEO of the Spokane Sports Commission, speaks during a March 2 presentation for a new downtown stadium. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

The debate over the location of Spokane Public Schools’ new stadium comes with no shortage of football analogies.

Six weeks ago, a proposal for a downtown stadium looked like a Hail Mary.

Now the ball is at the goal line and time is running out: The board has two weeks at most to decide one of the most contentious issues to face the Spokane School Board in the past few years.

A decision could come as soon as Wednesday night, though more likely on April 28.

“Otherwise, we will have to incur some costly penalties,” board President Jerrall Haynes said, referring to bids that must go out next month in order for a new facility to be built by fall 2022.

Ever since the Downtown Spokane Partnership first pitched the downtown proposal in early March, the district has received plenty of advice – via public forums, a public survey and a “million and one emails,” Haynes said.

It’s up to the board, however, to make the final decision and apparently leave one side or the other feeling bruised and betrayed.

“The board gets a week to read, think about and digest the information,” Haynes said. “We’re going to have a thoughtful and thorough discussion.”

The arguments are well-known.

Backed by a study that promises $11.4 million in annual economic impact, the Downtown Spokane Partnership and other supporters also foresee a boost to a downtown economy reeling from the pandemic, the introduction of a high-level professional soccer team and a more central location for everyone. They also point out that under the deal, the Spokane Public Facilities District – not the school district – would cover the maintenance costs of the stadium.

Opponents cite results of the 2018 advisory vote, in which 64% opted for the Albi site for the $31 million stadium. They also fear that parking – especially the free variety – will be scarcer, and that the Spokane Civic Theatre will be harmed by the noise emanating from nearby stadium.

There still may be some areas of compromise, however, especially regarding the theater.

During Wednesday’s unpacking of the results of a survey conducted online via ThoughtExchange, board members learned that of the more than 11,000 sentiments shared on the stadium, almost half, or about 5,300, favored the downtown option.

Only about 1,400 preferred sticking with the Albi site, but another 900 urged the district to respect the outcome of the advisory vote. Others voiced concerns about parking, potential impact on the Spokane Civic Theatre and other issues, leaving the issue still a bit muddled.

It’s possible that the district could negotiate a better revenue-sharing deal with the Spokane Public Facilities District, which would operate a downtown facility.

Without going into details, Haynes said the board is open to exploring “whatever ideas and thoughts come to the table in regards to moving forward or not.”

It’s also feasible that those funds – raised privately or even from Olympia – could offset the cost of soundproofing the 50-year-old theater building.

That possibility already has been discussed, according to a statement issued Friday by the Spokane Civic Theater.

The statement revealed that theater officials met last week with Stephanie Curran, CEO of the facilities district; and this week with Haynes.

“In both occurrences, the topics discussed included potential parking mitigation should the project move forward, soundproofing needs that Civic would require to remain operational, and a request for the visibility of Civic and our community impact as a piece of the larger puzzle moving forward,” the statement said.

The statement added that the theater is already “collaborating” with companies that already work with the Arena on soundproofing and other issues “to determine actual costs for sound infrastructure should the Downtown Stadium be realized.”

“We continue to explore all available options to enforce the Civic’s capacity to utilize its property and engage with its community,” the statement said.

“We also recognize that should the Downtown Stadium move forward, Spokane Civic Theatre … must be invited into the conversation as a key player and joint solution maker.”

The statement did not raise the possibility of relocation, though it acknowledged that Mark Richard, President of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, had discussed the possibility with theater leadership.

Reached Friday afternoon, Richard said the downtown group’s preference would be to find a new home for the Civic, perhaps close to the theater district downtown.

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