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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Education

Spokane Public Schools survey shows public division on stadium issue

March 25, 2021 Updated Thu., March 25, 2021 at 9:13 p.m.

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)
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)

Spokane citizens appear to be sharply divided on the issue of where Spokane Public Schools should built a new sports stadium.

Since Spokane Public Schools posted a ThoughtExchange online survey two weeks ago, more than 6,000 people have shared their thoughts on a new proposal to build the stadium downtown instead of the previously approved Albi site.

The board members expect to make a final decision on April 21.

By midafternoon Thursday, the district had received 8,800 comments from more than 6,100 unique participants to the ThoughtExchange, which strives to seek input as well as supporting arguments.

Each comment is subject to ratings from other participants, all of whom are anonymous. The survey, which is accessible from the district’s home page, runs through April 14.

“I’m excited about the community engagement,” board President Jerrall Haynes said. “There’s a little more participation than we thought, so we want to make sure that we make a thoughtful decision.”

Events have moved swiftly since March 2, when Mark Richard, President and CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, held a news conference proposing that the district scrap plans for the Albi site and built a $31 million stadium downtown instead.

Richard’s presentation cited a study that projected $11.4 million in annual economic stimulus to the downtown economy, savings to the district, a central location that would be more accessible to most residents and the potential of a professional soccer team.

“A win, win, win for Spokane,” said Richard, who gave a similar presentation to the school board on March 9.

That night, the board opted to seek public input. Last week, it hosted a pair of online forums, which drew heavy support for the downtown option.

The Thought Exchange, which launched March 11, shows a deep split among respondents.

Backers of the downtown site point to the convenience of a downtown location, economic stimulus from a greater number of events and the attraction of a professional soccer team.

Supporters of the Albi location cite concerns over parking, possible effects of a downtown stadium on the Spokane Civic Theatre, and above all the result – 64% for Albi – of an advisory vote in 2018.

“In my considered view, the Board should and must respect the previous advisory vote,” one participant wrote. “The new site proponents desire a second ‘bite of the apple.’”

Another was more direct.

“SPS, you just cannot overturn such an overwhelming vote by yourselves hiding behind ‘leadership’ and ‘vision’ and that ‘the people who vote are idiots,’” the writer said.

Parking continues to be a major concern for opponents of the downtown proposal, despite assurances from the school district and the results of a study conducted in 2018.

“The area around the proposed new stadium, Arena and Podium is already congested,” said a survey participant who works in the area north of the Spokane River. “On busy days, it can be hard to find parking as it is. Events at the Arena slow down traffic considerably.”

Another writer claimed that “there is already so much congestion downtown that I know many people avoid it.”

The ThoughtExchange also is drawing comments from supporters of the Civic Theatre.

One wrote that a stadium next door “will create a direct, negative impact on a beloved Spokane institution … the arts are vital to Spokane.”

Other respondents worried about using taxpayer funds to build a stadium for a private partnership, and the possible negative effects should the United Soccer League franchise prove unsuccessful.

“Many municipalities nationwide have borne unreasonable and unfair costs in the pursuit of pro sports teams,” one person wrote.

Two major selling points of the downtown proposal – economic stimulus and the $350,000 annual savings to the district – gained traction among some respondents.

“The enhancement to the economy of Spokane is important,” one wrote. “Spokane needs those dollars for a more viable prosperous city.”

Another participant believed that the downtown site “is also the least expensive to maintain and will create the most value – like Riverfront Park. This idea makes sense.”

Another respondent pointed to the potential savings – $17.5 million over 50 years – for the district in maintenance and operations costs at Albi.

“Saving taxpayer money should always be a top priority,” the participant wrote.

Others echoed comments from last week’s public forum, including the potential use of the Albi site for playing fields that might generate revenue from regional tournaments in soccer and lacrosse.

“Real estate is a scarce commodity in the city,” one person said. “We should be using it to its highest potential.”

Others predicted cultural benefit for the greater downtown area.

“Spokane has become a beacon for sports (Hoopfest, Bloomsday, the Zags), I fully believe a professional soccer team is a missing piece,” one person said.

Another urged the board to approve the downtown option, citing the “need to invigorate and excite people to make downtown the central core of our community. This initiative does just that.”

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