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Stadium Shuffle 

by Pia K. Hansen

Bonnie Olson is angry. She has been involved with the Northwest Neighborhood Association for three years, where she currently serves as the chair of the association's development committee. Since July, the neighborhood has been engaged in a serious planning effort led by the city of Spokane's Parks and Recreation Department. Their express goal is to find a good location for construction of athletic facilities adjacent to Joe Albi Stadium. These facilities include practice fields for baseball, softball and soccer; new parking spaces, complete with a bus stop; and probably a skateboard park and some new tennis courts. The question has been whether to locate the expansion to the south or to the north of the stadium.

On Sept. 10, Olson went to a meeting hosted by the Parks Department which included the evaluation of 15 different plans for the expansion of the stadium complex. At this meeting, stadium neighbors were divided into working groups, and, after spending time evaluating the plans, they held a mock vote. Locating the new softball complex to the north of the existing stadium seemed to be a clear favorite, she recalls.

Here's why Olson is mad. On Sept. 9, the day before the meeting, the chairman of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, R.W. Carson, sent a letter to the city council president, the planning commission and Mike Stone, director of the parks and recreation department, arguing for exactly the opposite.

"The Northwest Neighborhood Association endorses the plan for the Albi Stadium acreage that puts the softball complex to the south side of the stadium," Carson wrote.

Wait a minute, says Olson, that's not what everyone agreed on.

"I mean, I sit on the board and I didn't know about that letter, the secretary didn't know about that letter, nor did the vice president," she says. "That letter was self-serving to a few people in the neighborhood."

Carson says Olson didn't know anything about the letter because she had just become chair of the development committee and didn't serve on the board when the letter was written.

Back at city hall, Stone says it does seem like Carson's letter doesn't represent the view of the neighborhood.

"What confuses me is that the letter was written before the actual meeting was held," says Stone. "At the meeting on the 10th, people kept telling us that the neighborhood council was meeting the following week, and would make a decision then. This letter was written on the 9th."

Olson and other neighborhood activists are now going from door to door collecting signatures on a letter that reads: "It appears that the city Park Board has ignored the interests of our community and further ignored the stated determination of our neighborhood, and has voted to site the proposed development in the exact opposite place we had voted to support."

This wording, however, is jumping to conclusions because the final location of the stadium expansion has not been decided yet.

"That night on the 10th, the vote we had was purely advisory," explains Stone. "We wanted some indication as to what the neighbors wanted. We had a lot of people from the south side there that day and they wanted the expansion to the north. We have received a lot of letters since then. Most of them seem to support the south location. I wanted to have something to tell the Park Board, so I have also asked our professional development team, and their opinion is that the south location is the best one."

No matter what the neighborhood recommends, the final decision rests with the Park Board, and Stone expects that vote to take place in December or January.

"My recommendation is for one more public meeting, focusing on the south location," says Stone. "This specific south location plan is a hybrid of the initial south location plan. I don't think we'll get anything more out of public meetings looking at other plans."

Carson, meanwhile, is sticking to his guns.

"The south site is the best location as far as the board of the neighborhood association is concerned," he says. "The real problem is that the city is absolutely not interested in running this stadium. And the Public Facilities District is not interested either. It was supposed to have been turned over to the PFD with the Opera House and all that, but they didn't want it."

"The PFD has absolutely nothing to do with running Joe Albi Stadium," says Sherry Leatha, executive assistant with the PFD. "I'm not sure who's going to run it now that the city is out of the entertainment business, but we have nothing to do with it."

Carson says the neighborhood has considered creating its own public facilities district to run the stadium, but he won't give any details on that plan.

Up to this point, Joe Albi Stadium has been run by the city of Spokane. And that's perhaps good, since the money for the expansion is coming from the city's Parks Department.

In the late '90s, the parks department got the voters' permission to sell 30 acres located south of the Northpointe Shopping Center. That land was originally intended for a softball complex, but those plans fell apart and the land was sold to Wal-Mart for approximately $3.4 million. The condition of the sale was that the money would go toward an expansion of Joe Albi Stadium and couldn't be spent in any other way.

Olson lives off Northwest Boulevard, south of Joe Albi. She says putting the expansion in the south location will make traffic an even bigger nightmare in her neighborhood.

"I can't get out of my driveway when the football games let out. People have tailgate parties out in the street with big barbecues and flames going sky-high," she says. "I've seen traffic studies that show we are already maxed out up here. Even $3.4 million is not enough to pay for all this, when you include traffic mitigation."

Carson says the board of the neighborhood association wants the south location because "it's easier to run on a break-even basis."

"The Brett organization is going to have to run it to make this thing pay off," predicts Carson.

Brett Sports, which owns the Spokane Shadow Soccer team, was interested in running the stadium a couple of years ago, but those plans never came to fruition.

Olson would prefer to see the expansion go away.

"Personally, as in not speaking as the development chair, I'd say put it somewhere else. There is a neighborhood here, this is not like around Safeco Field or all those other stadiums they keep talking about," she says. "My opinion is that you have to look at what the neighbors really want. I know they want to be heard. They are in an uproar, and that's why we are out there collecting signatures."

Publication date: 10/30/03

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