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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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If these seats could talk: The demolition of Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium has begun

UPDATED: Fri., April 1, 2022

An aerial photo shows the progress of the demolition of Joe Albi Stadium in northwest Spokane Wednesday, March 30, 2022. As part of the school bond to build six new middle schools, Albi was abandoned and will be torn down and converted to other uses. A downtown stadium will take its place. The concrete salvaged for the 1950s facility will be crushed and used as fill to level the area.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
An aerial photo shows the progress of the demolition of Joe Albi Stadium in northwest Spokane Wednesday, March 30, 2022. As part of the school bond to build six new middle schools, Albi was abandoned and will be torn down and converted to other uses. A downtown stadium will take its place. The concrete salvaged for the 1950s facility will be crushed and used as fill to level the area. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Albi Stadium is a sore sight.

The artificial turf has been stripped away, leaving a field of dirt covered by piles of concrete, rebar and aluminum.

By fall, the entire site will be leveled, leaving only the memories of big concerts, Billy Graham’s crusade and hundreds of high school and college football games.

And after that? No one is quite sure.

“We’re going to plant grass over the top and lay it dormant until there’s a decision on what to do with it,” said Shawn Jordan, chief operations director for the property’s owner, Spokane Public Schools.

A year ago, many people expected that a new 5,000-seat stadium would rise on the site. In the fall of 2018, the school district moved ahead with a capital bond campaign that included a new $30 million stadium to replace the 72-year-old Albi.

The $495 million bond was approved, along with an advisory vote held that same year indicating a preference for the old Albi site.

Last spring, however, the school board opted for a downtown stadium instead.

Part of the pitch for the downtown option revolved around the need for more recreational playing fields.

Included for the downtown site was a proposal to transform the Albi site into playing fields for soccer and lacrosse, potentially increasing Spokane’s chance to host regional tournaments with an economic impact of at least $2 million annually.

That’s still the dream, said Eric Sawyer, executive director of Spokane Sports (formerly the Spokane Regional Sports Commission).

“There’s been a whole lot of talk, but now it’s time to start thinking about the future and some master plans and feasibility studies,” Sawyer said Thursday.

Sawyer contends that Spokane already has a shortage of recreational fields, especially on the South Hill. For several years, Spokane Youth Sports Association has been seeking to build a large complex at the corner of 37th Avenue and Glenrose, but that effort has faced fierce opposition from neighbors.

“Actually, it’s a question of getting more quality fields,” said Sawyer, who said artificial turf and lighting have become the new standard for playability.

“Youth teams from the Seattle area won’t even come here anymore,” Sawyer said. “That’s the place where we are falling behind.”

Sawyer has made that point during speeches to Rotary and other groups, along with the obvious pitch: “Spokane is growing, and there’s more demand.”

Depending on their configuration, as many as eight new fields could be accommodated at the Albi site, and would be able to host soccer, lacrosse, softball and rugby.

Along with the existing Merkel Complex, that would be enough to host regional tournaments.

All that’s needed, everyone agrees, is more money. It’s unclear how much the project would cost, but Sawyer predicts it would probably come from a combination of school, city and private funds.

The school district, however, isn’t expected to hold another bond election until 2024.

Potentially, the school district could sell the land to the city – or donate it as part of the overall cost. Presumably, the site would be run by Spokane Parks and Recreation.

For now, that’s just an idea. In the meantime, the only certainty is that Albi Stadium is in its final days.

The dressing room and bathrooms have already been torn down, and the scoreboard will soon find a new home. The ancient press box still stands sentinel, and the entire site is surrounded by tall chain-link fencing.

The demolition has been prolonged by the presence of asbestos in the caulk used to join blocks of concrete under the stadium seats. Now, the asbestos must be scraped off each block.

“That’s right, we were sitting on concrete with asbestos caulk,” said Greg Forsyth, director of capital projects for Spokane Public Schools.

So much for pleasant memories.

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