There’s nothing left of Albi Stadium but the echoes.
Gone are the bleachers where for seven decades fans cheered for high school and college football, concerts and even an eight-day visit from evangelist Billy Graham in 1982 that drew almost a quarter-million souls to the northwest corner of Spokane.
Forty years later, all that remains is a flat expanse of dirt that stretches for acres, from the playing fields of the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex to the green grass outside the new Pauline Flett Middle School.
Meanwhile, a new stadium is rising downtown, where next fall the cheers will rise not only for football, but professional soccer, concerts and other events.
“Something was missing at Albi,” said Greg Forsyth, director of capital projects for the school district, as he led a tour of the downtown construction site.
“There wasn’t a lot of energy,” Forsyth said.
But the cheers would rise again if enough support – financial and otherwise – can be raised to build new playfields on the Albi site.
That need for more recreational playing fields was part of the pitch for the downtown site in the spring of 2021.
A year ago, many people expected that a new 5,000-seat stadium would rise on the Albi 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.
Included in the downtown proposal was the idea 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.
It’s estimated that at least six new fields could be added at Albi. Combined with the Merkel site and the 13 fields at the Plantes Ferry complex, Spokane would be in excellent position to host regional youth tournaments that would generate tourist dollars.
“Right now we feel like we’re missing the boat on soccer,” said Paul Christiansen, director of sports for the Spokane Public Facilities District.
“As far as sports tourism, soccer travels well,” said Christiansen, who envisions large tournaments held at both sites, and perhaps a championship event at the downtown stadium.
Rugby and lacrosse events also would be in the mix.
“It’s a logical thing to do to add more playing fields,” Eric Sawyer, executive director of Spokane Sports (formerly the Spokane Sports Commission), said Thursday.
Ideally, those new fields would have lights and artificial turf, he said.
“It’s a question of getting more quality fields.”
Sawyer sees a need beyond sports tourism dollars.
“We all know that our community is growing, and we have to anticipate sports and recreation opportunities to make it desirable for families,” Sawyer said. “Let’s embrace this and let’s prepare for it.”
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