The hard work is only beginning in the effort to bring a sports stadium to downtown Spokane.
If it were a game, this would only be halftime. It was more than two years ago that voters approved a capital bond to pay for a new stadium for Spokane Public Schools, and it will be another two years before fans are cheering in the stands.
It’s been five weeks since the district agreed to spend its $31 million north of the Spokane River instead of the original Joe Albi site.
“It’s kind of hard for me to believe that it’s happened,” Stephanie Curran, CEO of the Spokane Public Facilities District, said last week.
“And I really believe it’s the right decision,” Curran said. “I haven’t seen much negativity about it since the vote, but the people who were against it, we just want them to give us a chance to show them that this is going to be a positive thing.”
Since then, the school district, the PFD, the Civic Theatre and representatives from the United Soccer League have begun to delve into the details.
The next step is to approve an interlocal agreement between the school district and the PFD, which will operate the 5,000-seat stadium along with its neighboring properties, The Podium and the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
Prior to the final vote, the PFD agreed in principle to a list of requirements from the school district. Among the major stipulations, the district will retain ownership of the stadium, will be provided priority scheduling rights for events, will pay no more than $31 million to build the stadium, will retain a share of “market-based facility fees,” and will have free and sufficient parking.
The district will also receive a share of all revenue from non-school events.
The district also stands to save $350,000 annually in operations and maintenance costs – that’s $22.5 million over the expected 50-year life of the facility – by not building at Albi.
“Who wouldn’t want to save that kind of money?” Curran said. “And we’ll be able to manage it more effectively, because I already have staff working in other buildings and we’ll be able to collaborate with other venues.”
Attorneys for both entities will work out the details – “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s,” Mark Anderson, assistant superintendent for Spokane Public Schools, said last week.
“We haven’t been resting on our laurels,” said Anderson, who along with board President Jerrall Haynes led negotiations with the PFD.
Additional language around parking and noise mitigation appeared to mollify officials and fans from the theater, which threw its support to the downtown project on the eve of the vote.
As the stadium design unfolds, the theater also will have a seat at the table; so will representatives from the United Soccer League, which has committed an additional $2 million to the project with the goal of expanding its League One to Spokane.
The school district also will be able to use the space for graduations and other events at no charge. If there’s bad weather, the event would be moved inside The Podium or the Arena.
However, the district will lose some time in the bargain. Instead of opening the 2022 football season at a new Albi Stadium, they will have to wait another season and presumably play that fall at the old Albi.
Construction of the new stadium is expected to begin in February 2022.
The district also will lose some funds already sunk into design costs. ALSC Architects PS of Spokane will be retained for the new project.
It’s unclear how much of the current design will be incorporated into the downtown facility, which will be an above-ground stadium as opposed to the bowl shape at Albi.
However, Anderson expects some common elements, including the number of locker rooms, and the ability to light up the stadium with the school colors of the home team in each event.
The district also expects to bring certain historic features of Albi Stadium – including the bronze statue of Joe Albi – to the new facility.
The stadium project will be part of a surge in development on the north bank of the river.
Mark Richard, president and CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership and one of the prime drivers of the project, is optimistic about the area’s potential.
“We’re getting some really positive calls from investors right now,” said Richard, who noted that the predominantly low-income area qualifies as a federal opportunity zone that would provide investors with substantial reductions in capital gains taxes.
The issue of parking – a point of contention in the runup to last month’s decision – also is being addressed.
The PFD will be responsible for addressing any parking shortages. Discussions are ongoing with nearby businesses to use their facilities to provide an additional 1,000 spots during high-volume events.
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