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

Downtown stadium proposal pitched to Spokane school board

The directors of Spokane Public Schools will hear a lot of numbers Wednesday night.

During a special meeting which begins at 5:30 p.m., the board will learn more about a proposal from the Downtown Spokane Partnership to build a new 5,000-seat sports stadium in the downtown area, just east of the Arena.

However, the proposal requires the district to abandon plans to build a new $31 million stadium at the current Joe Albi site and instead spend that money downtown.

The effort is backed by a comprehensive study that predicts an $11.4 million annual economic boost for Spokane and $17.5 million in long-term savings for the district.

“This is a smart investment. It not only provides the district with cost savings, it makes a greater economic impact, leverages taxpayer dollars, supports local business and creates jobs,” said DSP President Mark Richard, who will lead the presentation.

A downtown location also would offer a more central location for high school sports and help attract a professional team from the United Soccer League, he said.

“A win, win, win for Spokane,” Richard called it during a news conference last week.

The school board agreed to hear the proposal, opening a door many thought was slammed shut long ago by an advisory vote in which 64% of city voters preferred the Albi site instead of downtown.

That 64% still represents the biggest number in the equation, and some of those voters responded to the new proposal by urging the district to immediately reject the new proposal.

No action is expected on Wednesday. However, board members are expected to ask plenty of questions with an eye toward a vote, perhaps later this month.

Time also is a factor: The district is scheduled to solicit bids for the Albi project beginning next month.

Their ultimate decision may come down to weighing the benefits of the proposals against potentially losing some voter goodwill should they pivot from Albi.

However, a vote against the downtown site might upset local business leaders, who backed the district’s recent levy.

The school board meeting will be held via Zoom and will be open to the public. No comments will be taken during the meeting.

The presentation by supporters of the downtown stadium will outline what they call three major potential benefits for the school district and the community:

  • An annual savings of $350,000 for the district in maintenance and operating costs at Albi Stadium.
  • A more centrally located and accessible multipurpose stadium, which would host district events as well as other programs.
  • A catalyst for downtown development as well as increased tax and parking revenue.

Backers also argue that should the school district instead stay with Albi project, the economic impact would be roughly one-eighth that of the downtown option.

“This kind of economic opportunity means even more now than it did a few years ago as Spokane works to recover from the economic recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Richard said. “Our community and our local businesses would benefit greatly from this opportunity.”

The proposal also details construction costs and other fine points of the project, should it be approved.

Under its terms, the Spokane Public Facilities District would oversee design and construction in conjunction with the school district and the United Soccer League.

The PFD would own, manage and operated the stadium, with no cost to the district for its events such as high school football games.

The PFD also would provide free 500 parking spaces for district football events and a “mutually agreeable number” of complimentary parking spaces for other events.

Should the downtown option be approved, the Albi site could be converted into playing fields for soccer, “with an estimated $6 million incremental annual economic impact” from a multisport, multifield complex.

According to the DSP proposal, “preliminary talks with the Spokane City Parks Director has taken place,” and that the latter “has expressed openness to studying demands and adding a plan for the Joe Albi site to a city park bond measure if one is put forward.”

The proposal has broad support in the Spokane business community; however most elected officials and community leaders contacted by The Spokesman-Review have declined to comment.

Former Mayor David Condon supported the downtown option in 2018.

According to a spokesperson, Mayor Nadine Woodward is “listening and watching and would like to learn more before she gets involved in the discussion.”

City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said she believes the proposal “will drive growth and opportunity.”