In the next couple of weeks, the Spokane Public School Board will be deciding on where to build the replacement for Joe Albi Stadium that voters funded when they approved a 2018 levy. In that levy there was also an advisory vote on whether the new facility should be downtown. Voters resoundingly said no, leave it where it is. In this case, the voters got it wrong.
Before the "we already voted on it" crowd chimes in, I agree: We did vote on it. But we also had to vote twice on replacing the Boone Street Barn before it passed, and look what that has done for our city. We have also reconsidered many voters' decisions to benefit our community, including decisions affecting Spokane Public Transit and other school bonds and levies.
Voters also initially voted down turning a rail yard into Riverfront Park. Sometimes things need a second look. This is one of those cases. It should also be noted that the city traded Albi to the school district in 2013 for some land at the South Athletic Complex on Regal.
For starters, building a new 5,000-seat athletic facility in the middle of a residential neighborhood makes no sense. Our community has strived to create livable and walkable neighborhoods. The current Albi location does not fit that objective and does not have the road infrastructure to support large events on an ongoing basis. Would you want a new 5,000 seat stadium in your neighborhood?
One of the original purposes of the land swap was for the district to be able to build a new school and more playing fields on the current Albi location. Both are needed to support the growing population in the area and to address our community's shortage of playing fields. As a bonus, these new fields would be right next to the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex, leveraging locational assets.
Another issue with the current Albi site is its lack of public transportation access. A minimal number of routes service that area. The downtown location provides public access from all locations of the city and county served by Spokane Transit. This matters for students who, for whatever reason, might not have a way to get to their events as either a participant or spectator without public transit. This additional public transit access also will lessen parking and traffic issues during major events.
Since I brought up parking, it should be addressed. This was a major concern last time. The new proposal includes 500 new spots across the street from the proposed downtown location, free to those attending district events. That's something that was not part of the 2018 advisory proposal.
The downtown location not only makes logistical sense; it creates a more complete participant and attendee experience. It is right next to the Spokane Arena, the new Podium sportsplex, and a beautiful, renovated Riverfront Park with a landscaped walking path from these facilities into the downtown core of restaurants, shopping and accommodations.
Part of the new stadium location proposal is the commitment by the United Soccer League to locate a team in Spokane that would use the facility in the spring and summer months. This has also brought another $2 million in investment, beyond the district's $31 million set aside for the stadium.
One potentially negatively affected organization is the Spokane Civic Theatre. I think some of their concerns can be mitigated with soundproofing, but maybe with some outside-the-box thinking, too. We already have several underutilized theaters in the downtown core; maybe a partnership/solution can be forged that benefits the arts community as well.
To me the greatest community good for our tax dollars is this proposed collaborative solution of the downtown location. I do think that the Spokane Public Schools still has room for negotiation in this location. Since the new stadium will be operated by the Public Facilities District, which also operates the Spokane Arena and the Podium, is there a revenue share for the school district beyond the $17.5 million operating savings over the life of the stadium if the facility nets significant profits? As the major investor, the school district should share in the profits. ♦
Michael Allen, a business and entrepreneurship professor at Spokane Community College, is a former associate athletic director at Eastern Washington University. A longtime Republican, he previously served six years on the Spokane City Council.