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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

It’s decision time on downtown stadium proposal

UPDATED: Wed., May 5, 2021

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. (JESSE TINSLEY)

In case the board members at Spokane Public Schools didn’t know it already, there’s a lot riding on Wednesday’s special meeting.

There’s only one item on the agenda: “potential action” on the proposal to build the district’s new $31 million sports stadium in the downtown area and not at the current Albi Stadium site.

“We expect to have a vote tomorrow,” board President Jerrall Haynes said Tuesday afternoon.

The meeting, which begins at 5 p.m., will be accessible via Zoom. No public testimony will be taken.

However, the public has had several chances to weigh in on the proposal, which was introduced two months ago by the Downtown Spokane Partnership, including two public forums, an online public survey and “a million-and-one emails,” Haynes said.

Depending on whom you ask, the proposal by the Downtown Spokane Partnership will either be an economy-boosting game-changer for the entire city, or a betrayal of the public trust that will result in a traffic and parking disaster.

However, prospects for a downtown stadium have received a significant boost in recent days.

During a meeting on April 21, the school board voted to ask for more concessions from the Spokane Public Facilities District related to parking, revenue sharing and equity as well as the concerns of the nearby Spokane Civic Theatre.

Board member Mike Wiser seemed skeptical that the requests would be met.

“These are difficult parameters to achieve, frankly,” Wiser said at the time.

However the PFD responded nine days later by meeting every pertinent request. The PFD also promised to “bring the theater to the table” during design and planning of the 5,000-seat stadium.

Later on Tuesday, DSP President Mark Richard sent a letter to the school board promising at least $95,000 in backing from “private entities … committed to working with regional political and business leadership to obtain state funding for the upgrades to the Civic Theatre building for sound mitigation and other related needs,” should the board approve the dowtown stadium option.

Also, late Tuesday, the theater also gave its blessing to the deal in a one-paragraph letter sent to the school board by its attorney, James McPhee:

“After constructive problem solving with Spokane Public Schools and the Spokane Public Facilities District in their effort to build a stadium in downtown Spokane, Spokane Civic Theatre has collaborated with Spokane Public Schools and the Spokane Public Facilities District to support their effort in a way that not only lessens the impact of a downtown stadium on Spokane Civic Theatre, but that also designs programs that enhance arts throughout the Spokane community including in its schools.”

With their wish list fulfilled, it may be difficult for board members to walk away from the deal.

The issue appeared settled the other way on Election Day 2018.

That year, voters approved a $495 million school district capital bond, which also included $31 million for the stadium. Also on the ballot was an advisory vote put up by the City of Spokane, asking where voters preferred to build the new stadium.

By a margin of almost 2-to-1, Spokane voters preferred the Albi site. Since then, the district has begun planning and design for the Albi site.

The advisory vote has loomed large in the minds of opponents as well as board members.

However, according to studies commissioned by the DPS, a downtown location would provide a badly needed boost for local businesses and add $11.4 million annually in economic impact.

It also would re-energize a downtown economy pummeled by the pandemic and provide a more central location than the Albi site in northwest Spokane, backers say.

That in turn would help attract a professional team from the United Soccer League, which has promised to contribute up to $2 million in improvements to a downtown stadium.

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