It's decision time on downtown stadium proposal

Jim Allen, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
·3 min read

May 4—In case the board members at Spokane Public Schools didn't know it already, there's a lot riding on Wednesday's special meeting.

There's only one item on the agenda: "potential action" on the proposal to build the district's new $31 million sports stadium in the downtown area and not at the current Albi Stadium site.

"We expect to have a vote tomorrow," board President Jerrall Haynes said Tuesday afternoon.

The meeting, which begins at 5 p.m., will be accessible via Zoom. No public testimony will be taken.

However, the public has had several chances to weigh in on the proposal, which was introduced two months ago by the Downtown Spokane Partnership, including two public forums, an online public survey and "a million-and-one emails," Haynes said.

Depending on whom you ask, the proposal by the Downtown Spokane Partnership will either be an economy-boosting game-changer for the entire city, or a betrayal of the public trust that will result in a traffic and parking disaster.

However, prospects for a downtown stadium have received a significant boost in recent days.

During a meeting on April 21, the school board voted to ask for more concessions from the Spokane Public Facilities District related to parking, revenue sharing, equity as well as the concerns of the nearby Spokane Civic Theatre.

Board member Mike Wiser seemed skeptical that the requests would be met.

"These are difficult parameters to achieve, frankly," Wiser said at the time.

However the PFD responded nine days later by meeting every pertinent request. The PFD also promised to "bring the theater to the table" during design and planning of the 5,000-seat stadium.

Theater officials have promised to send a response letter to the proposal, but that hadn't been received as of Tuesday afternoon, Haynes said.

With their wish list fulfilled, it may be difficult for board members to walk away from the deal.

The issue appeared settled the other on Election Day 2018.

That year, voters approved a $495 million school district capital bond, which also included $31 million for the stadium. Also on the ballot was an advisory vote put up by the City of Spokane, asking where voters preferred to build the new stadium.

By a margin of almost 2-to-1, Spokane voters preferred the Albi site. Since then, the district has begun planning and design for the Albi site.

The advisory vote has loomed large in the minds of opponents as well as board members.

However, according to studies commissioned by the DPS, a downtown location would provide a badly needed boost for local businesses and add $11.4 million annually in economic impact.

It also would re-energize a downtown economy staggered by the pandemic and provide a more central location than the Albi site in northwest Spokane, backers say.

That in turn would help attract a processional team from the United Soccer League, which has promised to contribute up to $2 million in improvements to a downtown stadium.