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Spokane school board moves forward with downtown stadium option

After weeks of receiving public input about a new stadium proposal, board members voted 4-1 to continue planning for a downtown location.

SPOKANE, Wash — The board for Spokane Public Schools is moving forward with the plan for the stadium to be located downtown.

During the meeting Wednesday night, board members discussed their opinions on which location would be best for students.

SPS Board President Jerrall Haynes motioned to the school board to approve district leadership to engage in negotiations to create a partnership with businesses (like Spokane Civic Theatre) to further explore the concept of a downtown stadium. He also had a list of parameters. Haynes wanted SPS to retain all ownership with a priority on usage rights, SPS would receive "sufficient parking" for free for district events and an effort made to partner with businesses of color for services relating to construction and/or operation of the stadium. 

Board members voted 4-1 to continue on with the process of a downtown project near the Spokane Arena.

Nikki Lockwood was the lone nay on the vote. She said her reasoning was that not every student participates in sports, arts programs in schools are typically ignored and she did not want the downtown location to harm the theatre.

The next step in the process includes district leadership negotiating with both the Civic Theatre and the PFD on a partnership, but they must follow the newest parameters. The leaders must report back to the board with a final decision no later than May 5.

This all started in 2018, when district voters approved a half-billion dollar bond that included $31 million to replace the decayed Joe Albi Stadium.

That same year, voters within city limits said in an advisory vote they'd prefer that replacement be built at the same site in Northwest Spokane, rather than downtown. The board voted that year to follow that vote, and they green-lit a replacement project at Joe Albi.

"I think a big part of those discussions back in 2018 was that there wasn't a concrete solution on the other side of the fence," Haynes said. "There were so many questions up in the air still. I honestly think an advisory vote, in order to go against that, there has to be a significant amount of information that points to the contrary."

The Northwest project recently wrapped up its design phase, and construction is supposed to begin soon.

But earlier this year a business group brought a new downtown proposal to the table, one with much more detail. It included a better plan for parking and an agreement from a minor league soccer team to come to Spokane if the stadium is built downtown.

Haynes says members wanted to keep an open mind.

"We've been collecting a lot of input, different data points," he said. "Whether it's been emails, phone calls, the public forums that we had, the ThoughtExchange survey."

A lot of that input has been pro-downtown, including a recent endorsement of the proposal from Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward.

"Supporting a downtown location makes the most community, access, and financial sense," Woodward said in a video.

But there have also been concerns about parking, about effects to the nearby Spokane Civic Theater, and about overriding the 2018 advisory vote.

"It was reflective of what I already knew. We have community members that are very passionate about both sides of this argument," said Haynes. "I like to say that we live in a pretty balanced city, and as a result whenever any of these major topics come around, there is a split and divide that we notice."

Haynes says they're short on time; they need to make a call by early May.

"If we don't have a decision by then, then we start to lose a tremendous amount of money as time continues to pass," he said.

The board could decide to go forward with the downtown proposal as presented to them, to reject it and continue with the Albi project, or to modify the downtown proposal in some way. 

Haynes says that decision will ultimately come down to one thing.

"What's best for students and the health of our school district. That's top of the list, I believe, I feel safe enough to say, for each and every one of my fellow board members," he said.