As the dignitaries talked Wednesday afternoon about women’s soccer in Spokane, it was already standing in front of them.
The occasion was the announcement that, by 2023, the United Soccer League plans to field a professional women’s team on the pitch of a new downtown stadium.
As the speakers had their day in the baking sun, Payton Stiles stood in the shade of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena and appreciated the moment.
“I think this gives little girls like me something to look forward to, but also something to work toward,” said Stiles, who starred at Mt. Spokane High School and now plays at Gonzaga.
“If this had been around when I was a kid, that I could go see those players under the lights, that would have been amazing,” Stiles said.
Now it has a chance to amaze thousands of young girls who are growing up with the game.
“And it will encourage people to pay more attention to women’s sports,” Stiles said.
That was the biggest takeaway from Wednesday’s announcement: that the new stadium will play host to more than just high school football, or only men’s soccer.
The USL has already committed to bring a League One men’s franchise to Spokane. Now, it hopes to broaden that appeal with a League W team.
“We’re incredibly excited to be able to create new opportunities for our community to be involved in women’s sports,” said Cindy Wendle, President of USL to Spokane.
“Enhancing gender equity and opportunity for women not only in competition but in all areas of sports management is paramount, and I am honored to be a part of the team bringing this amazing project to life,” Wendle said.
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward took it from there, evoking visions of “high school girls taking the field in a brand-new downtown stadium.”
“They will see that if they have a dream and they work hard enough, they can continue to have their careers playing under the lights on a national stage,” Woodward said.
A few moments later, Woodward and Wendle posed for cameras with a giant purple scarf.
“For the W,” it said. That stands for Women, but on this occasion it also stood for winning.
Until four months ago, Spokane Public Schools had committed $31 million toward a new 5,000-seat stadium at the current Albi site in northwest Spokane.
But in early March, a coalition led by the Downtown Spokane Partnership pitched the idea of a centralized alternative, along with a professional soccer team.
Two months later, after several public forums and much controversy, the district board of directors approved the downtown stadium, which will be located just east of the Arena.
Mark Richard, the president and CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, also appreciated the moment.
“The stadium will offer a whole host of opportunities for our students,” said Richard, who has a pair of soccer-playing daughters.
“This is a really great illustration of what we were trying to convey,” Richard said.
More work lies ahead. The USL must still find an ownership group for both teams, although Wendle said the league would assume financial responsibility in the event no one steps forward.
It’s also unclear whether the stadium will be ready by the fall of 2022, when high school football teams expect to compete on the new turf.
Greg Forsyth, head of capital projects for the school district, said Wednesday that it’s more likely the stadium won’t be completed until the spring of 2023.
That’s when the USL teams are expected to begin competing.
“Today’s announcement is another big step forward for the future of soccer in Spokane,” said Justin Papadakis, COO and Chief Real Estate Officer of the USL.
“In addition to the great work being done to bring both the men’s and women’s teams, we also could not be more excited with the progress being made on the downtown stadium project,” Papadakis said.
“Soccer is, at its core, about community and we have no doubt that this project will serve as a community gathering place, and great source of pride for all Spokane,” Papadakis said.
Stiles said she can’t wait.
“I think there’s a big Spokane soccer community, but it’s been neglected, and it’s bigger than people think,” she said.
“People think that Spokane is a basketball city, with GU and Hoopfest,” Stiles said. “But if you give us a chance to do something like that in soccer, I think you’re going to see the same excitement.”
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