Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Stadium near downtown deserves voice from voters

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In all of the important school, library, and recreation facility projects and improvements being floated in companion bond measures proposed by Spokane Public Schools and the city of Spokane, the issue that’s come to the forefront regards the future of a high school sports stadium: To Albi or not to Albi.

Now that it appears the stadium issue will be on the November ballot—if only as a separate, nonbinding advisory measure regarding whether a downsized stadium should be located near downtown or at the current Joe Albi stadium site in northwest Spokane—we think the option north of downtown would be best for both the schools and the city.

The $31 million cost estimate to replace the aging and oversized Joe Albi stadium, which is included in the $495.3 million school bond proposal, is the same at either location. The rub is over which entity—the school district or the city—should be requesting bond funds for a $10 million parking garage that would be needed for the location near downtown.

The school district punted that one to the city, which essentially punted it back in the form of putting it up to an advisory vote, meaning the question of funding a parking structure and other recreational improvements isn’t included in the city’s current $77 million library bond proposal.

Some skeptics question whether a high school sports stadium is city issue. But the city can’t be removed from the issue; it still owns the nearly 70-year old, antiquated Albi stadium, even though the school district operates it.

Now, a renewed partnership between the city and the district has envisioned a school, library, and sports facilities master plan that includes an option to build a new stadium east of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena and north of the Spokane Public Facility District’s planned sportsplex site on the north bank of the Spokane River.

In that option, Joe Albi would be razed, and the Dwight Merkel sports complex adjacent to it would be expanded by the city to include more playfields needed for other sports.

We think the proposed central location has a number of advantages that voters should consider. Among those advantages, the stadium would bring more youth activities closer to downtown. And the central stadium and garage could be used for other events when they aren’t needed for high school sports events. A downtown stadium, for example, has been bandied about as a potential home field for a minor league soccer team.

Such activity likely would provide an economic boost to hospitality services and retailers in and around downtown.

The PFD, which operates the arena and has expertise in running such public facilities, would operate the central stadium on behalf of the city, and that makes more sense than continuing the current school district-led operations at Joe Albi.

The city/school district vision for a potential centralized stadium and an expanded Dwight Merkel complex is a forward-looking concept that fits well with other recent and ongoing improvements in and around the city’s core. And we’re pleased that voters now will have a voice in whole schools and libraries package, if only in an advisory capacity in regard to the stadium location.

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