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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane venues considering creation of vaccinated-only sections to increase capacities

Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl plays to the crowd at the Spokane Arena in this December 2017 photo.  (DAN PELLE)

Spokane sports and entertainment venues could soon be carving out sections for attendees who’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine, but the new guidelines announced by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office this week also prompted questions among those who run the facilities.

“Any forward motion is positive. We’re grateful for that,” said Stephanie Curran, executive director of the Spokane Public Facilities District, which operates the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, the Spokane Convention Center,  First Interstate Center for the Arts and soon-to-be-opened Podium indoor sports complex.

The arena has been hosting the Spokane Chiefs this spring without spectators, a decision that’s likely to last through the end of their season in spite of Inslee’s new guidelines Monday. The new limits would lift the cap of spectators to 2,000 people inside the Spokane Arena, up from the current restriction of 600, Curran said. But the new rule could increase attendance during the upcoming Spokane Shock indoor football season and any future event booked at the venue.

Spokane Indians management also is intrigued at the idea of establishing a vaccinated section at Avista Stadium, said Otto Klein, senior vice president of the minor league baseball club. The Indians are selling 1,750 tickets for each of their first 20 games in the month of May, Klein said. Under the new guidance, they could up that attendance to 50% of Avista’s seating capacity, or about 3,400 fans.

“We are actively looking into it for June and beyond,” Klein said. The Indians opened their 120-game 2021 season on Tuesday evening.

Under the guidelines, which have different attendance caps for indoor and outdoor venues, the number of permitted visitors would be increased if a “vaccinated section” were created in the facility. Such a section would require proof of vaccination to enter, and the operator would have to set up different ticketing lines in order to permit those with proof of a vaccine and those without. In that section, social distancing would not be required, but attendees would still be required to wear masks unless actively eating or drinking.

Religious gathering and worship services also fall under the new “vaccinated section” guidelines.

The guidelines hew closely to the requirements instituted by several MLB clubs, among them the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. Curran said they’ll listen to their clients, including the Chiefs and Shock, whether they’ll want to institute such changes to increase capacity in the future. But with more rules come a greater cost to enforce those rules and concern about overworked security, Curran said.

Attendees would be able to prove vaccination by presenting their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine card, an image of the card or “documentation of vaccination from a health care provider electronic health record” or state record. Ushers would potentially become vaccine police, Curran said.

“That’s a lot of pressure to be putting on somebody that’s already doing checks for a weapon,” she said.

For smaller, less commercial gatherings, the creation of such sections might make sense. Brian Ritter, general manager of the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, said the venue has scheduled high school graduations and local dance recitals for the month of June. Those events might be able to take advantage of the vaccinated section concept to increase the cap in place in the theater that currently sits at 400 people. That could be doubled under the new guidance.

“The one thing I do think is a positive here, is it may encourage people to get vaccinated,” Ritter said.

The Spokane Symphony won’t start its season in the Fox until September, after last year’s season was canceled because of the pandemic. Jeff vom Saal, the symphony’s executive director, said decisions about seating for the fall 2021 season would be made based upon patron feedback. That could include vaccinated sections in order to make visitors feel more comfortable and bring more people into the theater, he said.

“I’m not saying that absolutely we will have x percent of the hall for vaccine-verified people,” he said. “But is it a paradigm worth exploring? Sure.”

The Pavilion at Riverfront Park is another venue that could benefit from an increased outdoor capacity.

The pandemic forced the cancellation of the new facility’s first planed season of events. Since then, promoters have announced engagements in the summer and fall for the funk/metal band Primus, electronic DJs Louis the Child and current pop-punk chart-topper Machine Gun Kelly.

Park staff will evaluate the guidance and determine capacity arrangements later this year, said Fianna Dickson, a spokeswoman for city parks. The first touring concert at the Pavilion is scheduled to be held on Aug. 13.