Named after Spokane's famed philanthropist and sports activist, the Joe Albi Stadium may be at the end of its game. The stadium needs millions of dollars of work in upgrades; neighbors complain that dust from its unkempt fields blows into their houses. Because people have to pay to park in the gravel lot, moreover, most of them choose street parking, which means noise and congestion fill the air on nights after games along otherwise quiet side streets.
Once a symbol of Spokane's thriving sports community, the 28,646-seat Joe Albi Stadium is now a joke: on April Fool's Day this year, the managing editor of Cougfan.com, an online magazine for WSU sports fans, wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about the stadium, sarcastically referring to the "pea-gravel and dirt spilling off the railroad tie retaining wall," and noting, before announcing "April Fool's," that the 2008 Apple Cup would be played at Joe Albi, something many Spokane Coug fans have long hoped for. "Joe can really rock," noted one of his fake sources.
As it is, Joe no longer rocks much. In fact, Mayor Jim West is considering selling the property to housing developers. Despite the condition of the stadium, neighbors agree it's an icon; the idea of getting rid of it angers many Northwest Spokane residents.
"The city let the stadium go to pot," says Dick Carson, chairman of the Northwest Neighborhood Council. "For years and years and years, they let it go, and it needs quite a bit of work."
Carson and others from the neighborhood council met last week to draft a letter to Mayor West asking him not to sell Joe Albi.
"We feel nothing should happen with Albi Stadium property until all 'stakeholders' involved with the property meet together with the various city departments," the letter reads. It goes on to say, "There has not been a full meeting of the minds on Joe Albi issues, particularly with regard to the building of apartments or houses on it."
"Obviously we want to evaluate all the neighborhood's concerns," says Cody George, senior advisor to the mayor. "There's a lot of options we are looking at."
Complex Developments -- Carson says many neighbors don't even know the stadium might be sold and leveled; in fact, he claims the city promised to use funds from the sale of some undeveloped parkland to develop a sports complex at Joe Albi. In 1999, voters passed Proposition 2, a measure allowing the Parks and Recreation Department to sell 34 acres near the Northpoint Sports Complex to Wal-Mart in exchange for a 113-acre sports complex at Joe Albi. From that sale, $3.2 million was set aside, but to date, nothing has happened with those funds.
"[That money] was earmarked for Albi Stadium," Carson says. "The city has been sitting on it and hasn't touched it."
George, with the mayor's office, says a sports complex at Joe Albi may not work.
"Some of the reasons that would make Albi a difficult site...[include] traffic mitigation; the stadium is right in the middle of the neighborhood, which limits how we can use it and the times we can use it."
Mike Stone, director of Parks and Recreation for Spokane, says they've done plenty of design studies on how to build the sports complex at Joe Albi, but for now, Stone says plans are on hold.
"The city, through the mayor's office, is trying to determine if the city should be in the football business and the stadium business," Stone says. "If Albi no longer exists as a stadium, then [building a sports complex there] wouldn't make sense."
But some neighbors don't think selling the stadium to housing developers would make much sense, either.
"If someone tried to buy that property and put up houses -- and we've heard someone would try to put up seven houses per acre, which would be terrible -- we don't think the city is prepared for it in water, sewer, stuff like that," Carson says. "There would be a lot of support work to do besides just traffic."
The idea of selling off Joe Albi stadium isn't just upsetting because residents in the area have long thought the sports complex would be built and the stadium would be rejuvenated, but also because neighbors feel the city hasn't come through with its promises.
"Our neighborhood has over 11,000 residents -- it's bigger than Walla Walla," Carson says. "The Office of Neighborhood Services is getting quite vociferous about what the city should do in their backyards, and it's good because there are a lot of people involved. We're trying to plan for the next 20 years and keep the neighborhood a friendly place and not let it go to pot because of the way the city has run it."
Where's the Money? -- Carson says the neighborhood wants the $3.2 million that was designated for the sports complex back in 1999 to be put to use.
"Everyone wants to keep Albi there, and they also want some park space," he says. "The city doesn't understand that it's the only place for school district activities and Junior Bloomsday. [Neighbors] need green space."
Stone, with the Parks Department, claims that even though voters approved the measure allowing money from the sale of parkland to pay for a sports complex, there was never specification regarding where it would be built.
"Joe Albi was one of the logical discussion points at that time, and still is," he says. "But the real issue now is, what is the future of Joe Albi Stadium? The city just bought the Playfair site, and we've looked at [the possibility of building] the sports complex out there. But there's a number of issues with that, too."
Northwest residents insist Proposition 2 specified that the money would be used at Joe Albi.
"Everything we saw was, 'sports complex at Albi,'" says Carson. "Everybody voted on it because they wanted it at Albi."
"That's not what the ballot title said, and it's not what they voted on," says Stone.
But the language in the voters' pamphlet for proposition 2 states specifically that the money from the sale of parkland would be used "for the development of new sports facilities on unused parts of Joe Albi Stadium grounds." It goes on to promise that "the Parks and Recreation Department will provide leadership, management, and public involvement in developing and implementing a master plan for the Joe Albi Stadium 113-acre site."
Northwest Spokane residents claim the only reason they voted to approve the sale of parkland to Wal-Mart was because it would ensure that Joe Albi had a future. Now the money may be used to build a sports complex somewhere else, perhaps at Playfair. The mayor has been deliberating over whether to sell Joe Albi since the city acquired the Playfair site, George acknowledges, but he adds that West hasn't made a decision.
Currently the city has a contract with Brett Sports for use and management of the stadium. Brett Sports owns the Spokane Shadow soccer team, which plays its home games at Albi. High school football games are also played there in the fall.
"We have a licensed agreement for another eight years," says Dave Pier, vice president of Brett Sports. He explains that if the city sells the stadium, his company will be compensated through an exit strategy provision in the contract, but says he doesn't know how much it will cost the city.
"It costs our corporation while they bet out what they're going to do," Pier says. "It makes it tough to run a business, but I can't disagree with [the city] looking into that. [The mayor] is aware that it's impacting our business and has been fair with us, and we appreciate that.
"I realize they see revenue potential for the possibility of building sports elsewhere," Pier continues, "and it solves some traffic [issues]. Albi is near and dear to our hearts but if [the sale] does happen, it'll happen for the right reasons."
George says the stadium is worth $7 million to $8 million, but that the property hasn't been officially assessed.
Neighbors hope their letter to Mayor West will at least open a dialogue with him and perhaps even persuade him to keep Joe Albi part of city property.
"We're so scared it will be sold and we'll never get that green space for the kids," says Ann Warrington, who lives near the stadium and helped draft the letter to the mayor. "Our neighborhood does not support selling Joe Albi, and the money that was allocated [in 1999] needs to be used to fix it up. Once you sell a treasure like that, you never get it back."