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Spokane County Commissioners vote to approve funding strategy for Avista Stadium renovations

The proposed new lease would quadruple Spokane Indians Baseball's rent, but some commissioners say it's not a fair deal.

SPOKANE, Wash. — In an effort to save a Spokane staple, county commissioners voted 3-2 to help fund a $22 million renovation to Avista Stadium, where the minor league Spokane Indians play.

Talks about the renovations and how to fund them have been in the works for nearly two years. On Tuesday, the memorandum of understanding (MOU) was approved by county commissioners, which essentially states Spokane County and the Spokane Indians will work together to raise money for stadium renovations.

Under the approved MOU, Spokane Indians Baseball agreed to raise $8 million. The county will match up to another $8 million, using some funds from the sale of two underperforming assets, including the raceway park.

The updates to Avista Stadium must be done by March 2025 to comply with new MLB regulations.

"People need to know we're at risk of losing minor league baseball in Spokane," Spokane County Commissioner Chris Jordan said Tuesday. "That's the reality."

Jordan added that even with the approval Tuesday, the stadium would be out of compliance by April's opening day.

"We're looking for other state and federal support as well," said District 2 Commissioner Amber Waldref.

It's not just the face of Avista Stadium that's changing: as soon as the updates are done, the Indians and the county will have to replace the existing lease.

"Twenty-five thousand dollars a year for rent was very low and we're gonna be at $100,000, plus they'll be paying all the operating costs, which will take us over $250,000 between operating and the rent," said District 4 Commissioner Mary Kuney.

Not only would the proposed 20-year lease quadruple the team's rent, but it would also increase by $2,000 every year and the Indians would pay additional rent every year attendance exceeds 250,000. That added rent would equal $1 for every ticket above 250,000.

"This is not a fair deal," argued District 3 Commissioner Josh Kerns.

Commissioners Kerns and Al French unsuccessfully argued for more provisions in the rental agreement, like a percentage of the team's gross revenue or a portion of all ticket sales. 

Both commissioners issued a joint statement following the afternoon vote, saying the MOU limits "the ability for the County to recoup taxpayer dollars invested in the stadium."

“Although the County and the Spokane Indians Baseball Club have worked as partners together and in good faith, this MOU falls short of what is in the best interest for Spokane County taxpayers," Commissioner Kerns stated. “I’m deeply disappointed Commissioners Kuney, Jordan, and Waldref chose to ramrod this agreement through without sufficient public notice.”

Commissioners Kerns said he's received numerous emails from residents who told him not to approved the deal because the return on the investment would be so low; he went through several examples of other minor league teams paying significantly for similar stadium renovations.

"None of them have a team pitching in, pun intended, at $2 million. They're all substantially more than that," Kerns said. "This is the first written offer we received, we received it on Monday in writing and by Thursday it was on our draft agenda to be adopted. There were only four of us in the room when it was presented to us and it ends up for adoption, it's on the agenda less than a week later."

Other commissioners argued the stadium's economic impact can't be underestimated; Commissioner Waldref says the ballpark brings in $27 million a year. 

"I'm very optimistic that we're going to be meeting that over 250,000 in attendance number, and we will be seeing additional revenues come from that," Commissioner Kuney said.

"In a sense, the county is like a landlord for this ballpark and any time as a landlord you can negotiate a new lease that quadruples the rent and turns all maintenance over to the tenant, that's a good day for you as a landlord," Commissioner Jordan said.

Though Kerns couldn't be swayed that the initial investment would make financial sense in the long run.

"At an expense of $8 million, Commissioner Jordan," he replied.

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