The Spokane Valley City Council wants to build one of the best cross country courses in America.
In a 6-1 vote Tuesday, the council decided to ask the city’s lodging tax advisory committee for $4.4 million to put toward construction of a $7 million cross country course along the Spokane River.
The Spokane Valley lodging tax advisory committee is a five-member board made up of one City Council member and four people representing the hotel and tourism industries. In conjunction with the City Council, it decides how to spend the money that hotels collect when taxing their guests. Per state law, lodging tax revenues must be used to increase tourism.
Spokane Valley Economic Development Director Mike Basinger told the City Council that a state-of-the art cross country course would be a financial boon for local businesses.
Ashley Blake, CEO of the economic development nonprofit Spokane Sports, said a riverside cross country course could help the Valley land major events, such as NCAA championship races, and bring thousands of visitors to town.
“It really could be an iconic, national-caliber facility,” Blake said.
If Spokane Valley moves forward with the idea, the 2-kilometer course would primarily wind through a 46-acre property along Flora Road, north of the river and southeast of the Spokane Business and Industrial Park.
To put together a 5k or 10k race, event organizers would simply have runners loop the course multiple times.
Spokane Valley bought the Flora Road property in 2020 from the Washington State Department of Transportation for $2.1 million. It was a controversial purchase, with council members Ben Wick, Brandi Peetz, Tim Hattenburg voting for it and Rod Higgins, Pam Haley and Arne Woodard voting against it.
Basinger said a cross country course would offer a great return on investment. While $7 million might sound like a lot for a cross country course, it’s a small figure when compared to other proposals that have similar tourism-boosting potential.
“There’s such a demand and high need for this facility,” Blake said.
The $7 million cost upfront would pay for a clubhouse, which would have bathrooms, storage space and drug testing areas for NCAA championships. It would also cover the cost of other course infrastructure, such as timing equipment and a crow’s nest, from which announcers would have a bird’s-eye view of the race. Creating the course itself would be a relatively small portion of the cost, Blake said.
Basinger and Blake both emphasized that a cross country course would bring visitors to Spokane Valley during the fall, a slow season for tourism. It wouldn’t exclusively host cross country, either.
Runners would flock to the course from roughly September to November, but from November to January the course could be used for cyclocross, an amalgam of mountain biking, road racing and steeplechase.
Blake said she thinks the course could legitimately vie for major collegiate sporting events, including various levels of NCAA championships. It could draw conference championships too, as well as numerous high school and youth races. Blake said the course would ideally host 10 events a year.
Proponents of a riverside course in the Valley are essentially arguing that it could be the cross country equivalent of the Podium, a $53 million downtown Spokane facility completed in December 2021.
Most Spokane Valley City Council members said they love the cross country course idea.
“It’d be very unique to the area,” Hattenburg said. “The high schools are very excited about this.”
Wick, the only council member who voted against applying for lodging tax funds, said he has several concerns with the proposal – although he didn’t disparage the concept.
Wick asked Blake why the city couldn’t simply improve the cross country course at the Plante’s Ferry sports complex.
Blake said Plante’s Ferry is an imperfect cross country facility. The complex is mostly used for soccer, softball and baseball, and it’s impossible to hold cross country races and soccer games at the site simultaneously.
“Building a permanent facility allows us to run more events and higher caliber events,” Blake said.
On top of that, Basinger and Blake said the city won’t be able to bring premier races to Plante’s Ferry. If the city wants to attract the biggest events, it’ll have to offer a spectacular course.
City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said she likes the cross country course idea but, like Wick, she expressed some trepidation.
Peetz pointed out that Spokane Valley bought the 46-acre Flora Road property with the intent of turning it into a community park. If the city builds a cross country course on the site, she asked, would a park be off the table?
“We’re going to make sure that it can still be utilized as a community park,” Basinger said.
Blake explained that cross country and cyclocross would only use the course five months of the year.
“When we’re not in cross country season, this will look like a gorgeous park with walking trails,” she said.
Wick said he’d prefer if the City Council slowed down and considered all of its options before committing to a cross country course. But based on his fellow council members’ enthusiasm for the plan, it appears his request for more time will be overruled.
Blake said Spokane Sports in February could potentially start bidding for NCAA championship races on Spokane Valley’s behalf. Construction on the course could start as soon as 2024.
City Councilman Rod Higgins said he believes building the course would be a sound financial investment.
“It would have to be world-class,” he said, “but if we pull it off it could help to make this a destination place.”