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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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With pomp and a little unforeseen circumstance, Spokane Public Schools breaks ground on new downtown stadium

Nov. 30, 2021 Updated Tue., Nov. 30, 2021 at 9:14 p.m.

After all the heavy lifting, turning a shovel of dirt seemed exhilarating, almost cathartic.

Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new downtown stadium was that and more, with a lot of pomp to match the extraordinary circumstances.

It began in The Podium, with cheerleaders and a band drawn from all five Spokane high schools playing the national anthem as an Air Force color guard marched for 300 guests.

Moments later, nine speakers recalled the controversy, the hard work and mostly the collaboration that went into a project that wasn’t even on the community’s radar nine months ago.

There’s more work ahead. It’s still unclear when the project will be complete, or which soccer league will plant roots in Spokane.

Tuesday’s ceremony, however, was a big step, capping the decision by the Spokane Public Schools board to take a fresh look at the downtown alternative to building at the current Albi site.

Three months later, the district and the Spokane Public Facilities District found a way to make it work.

Tuesday’s ceremony was only symbolic, though powerful. Outside stood 22 gold-painted shovels, symbolically poised to bury the past as well as build for the future.

“It’s been a very controversial subject, and our community was split down the middle,” school board President Jerrall Haynes told the audience.

“We had to ask ourselves what was the best approach, and we decided that this was the right choice to make,” Haynes said.

Stephanie Curran, executive director of the PFD, allowed that “Albi Stadium Northwest would have been a beautiful and amazing stadium.”

“But we knew we could dream a bigger dream, where students could enjoy a stadium, play their sports under the bright lights of the heart of the community,” Curran said. “A place where a professional soccer team would want to bring a team here, and where concerts on stadium tours would want to make a stop here.”

That will happen, but some loose ends remain to be tied.

For one thing, it’s unclear when the 5,000-seat stadium will be completed.

According to Greg Forsyth, the school district’s director of capital projects, much will depend on how many rocks lie beneath the parking lot south of Boone Avenue.

Worst case is fall of 2023, but soccer fans are hoping for the spring of 2023, which would allow a professional team to compete that year.

But from which league?

Representatives from the United Soccer League and Major League Soccer were in the audience. Each group will soon make presentations to the PFD, which will make a final decision in about two weeks, Curran said.

Meanwhile, most of the attendees were getting their first look at The Podium, a multiuse sports facility completed earlier this year. A few noted that The Podium could have accommodated high school football had the school district been on board three years ago.

Then again, as Haynes pointed out, the school district is getting a good deal by partnering with the PFD, including $22 million for student activities and “elimination of transportation barriers to sports and other events.”

Mayor Nadine Woodward was out of town, but addressed the crowd with a prerecorded video message that looked ahead to a downtown area and north bank filled with activity.

“What we envisioned was more important than the obstacles,” Woodward said.

School district Superintendent Adam Swinyard said that the stadium project “is truly an example of why Spokane is so great in coming together and asking how can we do better and what can we do next.”

Spokane City Council President Breann Beggs called the project a representation of “what happens when people come together. … What we have today is better than what we could have imagined.”

A few minutes later, the crowd moved outside and imagined what the parking lot might look like in another 15 months.

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