Ultimately, officials said the opportunity was too good to pass up.
During a special meeting Wednesday night, the Spokane Public Schools board found more than enough reasons to approve the construction of a new $31 million sports stadium in the downtown area and abandon its plans to build at the current Joe Albi Stadium site in Northwest Spokane.
“I genuinely believe that when all is said and done, this decision is a step in the right direction to bring Spokane to a better place, but especially Spokane Public Schools,” board President Jerrall Haynes said after the 4-1 vote.
The decision caps almost three years of controversy over where to build the district’s new 5,000-seat stadium.
In an advisory vote in 2018, almost two-thirds of Spokane voters preferred the Albi option, and the district proceeded accordingly with preliminary work at Albi.
Then came the proposal from the Downtown Spokane Partnership, which commissioned a study projecting $11.4 million annually in economic impact, a more accessible location and the chance to attract a professional soccer team.
Seemingly a long shot when it was proposed in early March, the new proposal gained momentum through public forums and an extensive online survey.
School board sentiment, however, appeared mixed during a meeting on April 21, and the district opted to pursue better terms with the Spokane Public Facilities District. The resulting negotiations produced a deal that tipped the scales toward the downtown site, just east of the Arena.
“I’m grateful that the school board feels that this is the best design for their kids and their families, in what I believe is a historic moment,” Mark Richard, president of the DSP, said after the vote.
The terms include the retention of full ownership of the stadium, priority usage rights, a long-term savings of at least $22.5 million, an ample supply of free parking for school events and a share of proceeds from all non-district-related events at the stadium.
In addition, fears that the neighboring Spokane Civic Theatre would be impacted by a noisy stadium were addressed by all parties, including state legislators who vowed in a letter this week to seek funds for noise mitigation.
By Tuesday night, the theater also threw in its support for the downtown option, leaving the advisory vote as the last major reason to reject the downtown proposal.
Board member Nikki Lockwood did just that, citing a “high-level philosophical respect for the advisory vote.” Lockwood also worried about some “unknowns that keep me from choosing downtown.”
The rest of the board felt that the benefits were too good to pass up.
Board member Jenny Slagle, who appeared lukewarm to the proposal on April 21, said she was swayed by the promises to the Spokane Civic Theatre, as well as language in the proposed contract that addressed her worries over equity.
“That was a sticking point for me,” Slagle said Wednesday. “Now I can support this.”
Board members Aryn Ziehnert and Mike Wiser urged the district to address concerns about the vagueness of certain agreements, including revenue sharing, parking and the future of the Albi site.
Another uncertainty is the construction timeline for the downtown stadium.
Asked to give an estimate, the district’s capital projects director, Greg Forsyth, predicted completion in the fall of 2022.
Haynes, who got the ball rolling by inviting Richard to make the initial proposal on March 9, said the board didn’t take the advisory vote lightly.
“It was at the forefront of every conversation that we’ve had,” Haynes said.
“This allows us to create new and innovative ways to support our students and families who are on the margins of society far too often,” Haynes said.
Some of that support will come from established sources.
On Tuesday, 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.” .
The district also received a letter this week from state representatives Marcus Riccelli, Mike Volz, Timm Ormsby, Jeff Holy and Jenny Graham in support of funding the theater’s soundproofing needs:
“We are writing you today to communicate that should the Spokane Public Schools Board choose the downtown site for a stadium, we are committed to working in a bipartisan fashion to help secure a state Capital Budget appropriation to help offset costs of soundproofing the 50-year-old Civic Theater.”
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