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News >  K-12 education

Supporters of Spokane stadium say plan would save money and boost downtown, but time is running out

UPDATED: Wed., March 3, 2021

A proposal to build an outdoor downtown stadium that could host high school sports and be home to minor league soccer is getting renewed attention in a surprise final pitch to community leaders.

A new sports stadium would provide a badly needed boost for local businesses, re-energize downtown and improve quality of life in Spokane, backers of the project said Tuesday morning. And the downtown option would save the district money because upkeep would be covered by a minor league soccer team and the Spokane Public Facilities District, supporters said.

But time is running out for the idea, which would require the Spokane Public Schools Board to halt its plans to start construction on a new stadium in Northwest Spokane this year after demolishing Joe Albi Stadium. The idea also would contradict what voters advised in 2018, when they rejected the idea of a downtown stadium.

The best place for the stadium would be just north of the Spokane River and not at the current Joe Albi Stadium site, according to a recently completed study shared during a news conference at the Wonder Building.

“This project has an opportunity to be a part of our region’s recovery but also for our growth, and I think that’s critical, not just helping us out but helping us move forward,” said Mark Richard, president of Downtown Spokane Partnership, which is leading the campaign.

Richard was joined by officials from the Spokane Sports Commission, Visit Spokane and the United Soccer League, as well as local business owners.

The presentation came with visuals, including an aerial rendering of the new 5,000-seat stadium – with free parking for high school events – that would be located just east of the Arena.

The project would cost taxpayers no more than they’re already paying. An economic-impact study commissioned by backers projects it would generate $11.4 million annually in economic impact.

That’s a major selling point as Spokane looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, supporters say.

“They need hope, they need something to be inspired by,” Richard said. “We believe this is the right project, at the right time.”

The stadium would seat 5,000 people and cost about $31 million – money already approved as part of a capital bond passed in 2018.

However, the project would require Spokane Public Schools to abandon plans to build a stadium at the Albi site and repurpose that $31 million for the downtown alternative.

As part of the proposal, the Albi site would be converted into playing fields for soccer and lacrosse, potentially increasing Spokane’s chance to host lucrative regional tournaments with a predicted economic impact of between $2 million and $6 million.

The proposal is similar to the one in 2018.

However, in an advisory vote in that same election, Spokane voters preferred building the new stadium at the Albi site.

A few weeks later, the district cited the election results when it rejected an invitation from the Spokane Public Facilities District to pool resources into an enhanced SportsPlex complex that would accommodate high school football.

A year ago, Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner and United Soccer League Chief Operating Officer Justin Papadakis floated the idea of a multiuse stadium downtown.

That idea also faded, through school board indifference and the pandemic.

When asked Tuesday about the new proposal, school board President Jerrall Haynes appeared to leave the door open.

“I don’t know that much yet,” Haynes said. “I think we as a board and as a school district, we remain steadfast in what we said we were going to do.”

“But if there is a compelling enough argument made that better supports families and staff, we would consider that,” Haynes said.

Time is a major factor.

According to district Assistant Superintendent Mark Anderson, the district plans to advertise for bids later this month through Garco Constructions, its general contractor for the new middle school planned near the Albi site.

Downtown stadium backers will make a presentation Wednesday to the PFD board, but have yet to set up anything with the school board.

Said Richard: “We are optimistic that the school board will find this compelling as well.”

The presentation stressed the need to maximize investment by accommodating a variety of events, some of which would be a poor fit at the SportsPlex and impossible at a new Albi Stadium, supporters said.

Those events include band events and concerts, professional sports such as soccer, rugby and lacrosse, music festivals and touring concerts.

The presentation lists several benefits for the PFD, including increased facility operating revenue opportunities.

Accompanying documents include cost estimates – including a side-by-side comparison with the Albi scenario. The numbers are comparable; however they project that the school district would save $350,000 per year, or $17.5 million in operating costs of the expected 50-year operation of the stadium.

The quality of life impact is more difficult to measure. However, Papadakis said via Zoom that of the roughly 30 cities contacted by the USL for possible expansion, the level of engagement in Spokane has been among the highest.

“It’s impressed me and it’s impressed the league,” said Papadakis, who added that a study commissioned by the league showed Spokane would strongly support a USL team playing downtown.

“As a result of that, people would come before the game and stay after the game,” Papadakis said, addressing the plight of downtown restaurants and other businesses.

Jim Allen can be reached at (509) 459-5437 or by email at jima@spokesman.com

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