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

Spokane School Board signals support for downtown stadium, but delays final vote

Renderings of a possible downtown stadium are displayed during a presentation by the Downtown Spokane Partnership on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Spokane, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

The controversial question of where to build a new sports stadium in Spokane is going into overtime.

During an hourlong discussion Wednesday night, the Spokane Public Schools board of directors agreed in principle to construct a $31 million stadium near the Arena. However, in a 4-1 vote, the board opted to defer a final decision until at least May 5.

In the meantime, it will seek additional concessions from the Spokane Public Facilities District, which would maintain and operate the stadium, related to parking, revenue distribution and the potential impact of a new stadium on the nearby Spokane Civic Theatre.

Superintendent Adam Swinyard said the district will contact the PFD with the goal of an intergovernmental partnership.

“We would reach out and address the parameters you would be setting forth,” Swinyard said.

It’s unclear how those negotiations would play out. However, Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson was optimistic that negotiations could be as successful as those that led to the passage of a $495 million capital bond in 2018 to reduce elementary school class sizes by building three new middle schools and replacing three others, setting into motion the stadium debate between a downtown venue and the original Albi site planned for northwest Spokane.

“But it’s got to be a win for our community,” Anderson said.

Board member Mike Wiser was less optimistic.

“These are difficult parameters to achieve, frankly,” Wiser said.

Most of Wednesday’s meeting was devoted to revising a motion presented by board President Jerrall Haynes, in which he sought to seek concessions from the PFD on a downtown stadium proposal presented in early March by Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

Wiser and fellow board member Jenny Slagle offered additions – all of which were approved. Major provisions include:

  • The district would retain 100% ownership rights of the stadium, as well as priority usage rights.
  • The district would be guaranteed a minimum of $22.5 million in cost savings during the term of the contract.
  • Any building costs beyond $31 million would not be incurred by the district.
  • The Civic Theatre would receive priority parking, to its satisfaction, for all scheduled events. Also, concerns over noise pollution would be resolved to the theater’s satisfaction.

Prior to the vote, board members revisited the pros and cons of the downtown proposal, including what Haynes called an unprecedented volume of community feedback via email, ThoughtExchange and social media.

Only board member Nikki Lockwood was opposed to moving forward at all. Citing the concerns of the Civic Theatre, she said, “We need to take care of the students who are drawn to the arts; we need to not negatively impact them.”

“It just seems like a steep uphill to address,” Lockwood said.

Board member Aryn Ziehnert said the downtown idea “was a strong measure, but it wasn’t there yet.”

“I think that what we have here (the proposed changes) is getting there as close as possible,” Ziehnert said. “But we need to be making sure that we take care of and hear the concerns of the Civic Theatre.”

The action comes less than two months after the Downtown Spokane Partnership pitched the proposal in a press conference on March 3 and in a presentation to the school board a week later.

According to Richard and studies commissioned by the group, a new downtown sports stadium would provide a badly needed boost for local businesses and add $11.4 million annually in economic impact.

It also would re-energize a downtown economy staggered by the pandemic and provide a more central location than the Albi site in northwest Spokane, backers say.

That in turn would help attract a processional team from the United Soccer League, which has promised to contribute up to $2 million in improvements to a downtown stadium.

In the November 2018 election, the $495 million bond passed with 69% approval; in an advisory vote held at the same time, 64% of voters said they preferred the Albi site.

Since then, the district has proceeded with plans at Albi, though construction hasn’t begun.