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Dave Nichols: Put Albi Stadium out of its misery

The concrete stands, as you trudge up the non-OSHA compliant steps, literally crumble under your feet.

There’s no wifi. Seats are cracked or broken – or missing altogether. It looks like the last coat of paint it got was during the Reagan administration and the parking lot is more pothole than asphalt.

A light pole went out in late August just before the season started and it couldn’t get fixed until mid-October.

Joe Albi Stadium, in northwest Spokane, is at the end of its useful life.

Albi has been home of the Greater Spokane League, and Spokane City League before it, since the stadium was built in 1950, once a showcase venue for city football.

It has hosted Washington State and Eastern Washington football. The Apple Cup was played there until 1970s. Shoot, even the Beach Boys and Monsters of Rock played at Albi once upon a time.

As reported by The Spokesman-Review last week, Spokane Public Schools is considering options to build three new middle schools, and one plan could potentially bring a new high school sports stadium to downtown Spokane.

One of the locations being considered is one of those decrepit parking lots south of Albi, which would require the stadium to either be downsized and renovated – or converted into soccer fields and allow (force) the city to build a stadium elsewhere, preferably in an attractive downtown location.

Obviously, a plan like this has its supporters, detractors and opinion-givers.

My opinion? It can’t come soon enough. Albi is an eyesore, unattractive in both stature and appeal, to almost all who are forced to use it. It’s too big, too far out of the way and in no way is conducive to luring any sort of revenue-generating possibilities for the city.

I know from beat-up stadiums. I’m from Washington, D.C., and grew up attending football games at RFK Stadium in the 1980s and ’90s during the glory years of NFL football in the Nation’s Capital – then 30 years later going to baseball and soccer games in the rotting husk of that once venerable monument to pro football excellence.

But don’t take the word of a guy who’s been in town for five minutes.

“You can’t drink the water out of the pipes,” said Stacey Ward, Ferris’ athletic director.

“Albi is a money pit,” Ward continued. “It’s just kind of a dinosaur now.”

Ward grew up in Spokane. Albi has always been a part of her life. She started going to games at 6 years old with her father, a long-time referee – including a number of years as the official referee evaluator at for the GSL.

“We don’t need a 30,000-seat stadium and honestly I believe remodeling Albi into something workable and useable would take way more money than it’s worth,” Ward said. “You could throw a ton of money into it and it would be barely noticeable.”

For her money, Ward would love to see each GSL member have its own stadium, but acknowledges the impracticality.

“I think home games at a neighborhood school would draw the population around into the competition better than almost everything else,” she said.

But she’s on board with the idea of a new downtown stadium instead of trying to renovate Albi.

“For me, the appeal is to make a stadium that would be good for high school sports that Spokane Public Schools could look at hosting some of those events (state postseason football) in a place we could actually be proud of.”

Herb Rotchford, GSL/WIAA District 8 Director, concurs, and is emphatic in his support of the proposal currently before the Board of Spokane Sports Commission, of which he is a member.

“The timing couldn’t be better,” Rotchford said.

A proposed site for the potential sports stadium – which would be funded by voter approved bonds – is on city-owned land stretching from the north bank of Riverfront Park to Boone Avenue.

The proposal has a new 6,000-seat (or so) stadium as part of the Riverfront Park Sportsplex, a sports facility concept proposed by the Spokane Sports Commission.

“All in all, the plan is a perfect solution and perfect location,” Rotchford said.

Rotchford thinks a new downtown stadium would be a “game changer,” making it a viable location not only for GSL football but as a “postseason destination for football,” and perhaps for other uses, such as showcase and playoff high school soccer, minor league soccer and even concerts in the spring and summer months.

“We would be foolish to not take a broad view of the benefits to the entire Spokane sporting community instead of narrowing the focus to one group or entity,” he said.

“We should have the vision and mission of building something to attract the widest possible variety of sporting interests and make Spokane a viable destination for regional and national athletic governing bodies. In my view, the Sportsplex and urban football stadium would fulfill that vision.”

Of course, for every pie-in-the-sky dream there’s another take to the issue, and maybe a voice of reason for some in the community.

Ned Wendle is Director of Facilities and Planning for the Mead school district. That district is running a bond in February for a sports and activities complex to be shared by Mead and Mt. Spokane, and Wendel is spearheading the effort.

“To me, it started to make more sense as a planning director and a facilities director,” to have the Mead school district build its own roughly 4,500-seat stadium.

“For our community, I think it’s an asset.”

Wendle sat on the group that gathered architectural drawings and budgets for an Albi renovation proposal several years ago.

“I think it could be (renovated),” he said. “I don’t think that part of Spokane is sexy. But it could be an adequate arena. It would have been a nice place to play football.”

But he concedes Albi is at death’s door.

“You can go walk those grounds and see all the concessions and bathrooms that are closed down,” Wendle said of Albi. “Roofs barely hanging on. It’s too big for high school football. It isn’t conducive anymore to the way they want to play.

“They want to have their venue.”

Wendle thinks folks from Mead will be less involved if the GSL moves downtown, much like what they see at Albi now with fans from Central Valley and University reluctant to travel 45 minutes for games.

“The farther it went downtown, the less participation we could get out of our community,” he said.

Wendle said they will build at Mead regardless of any downtown proposal if the bond passes.

“I know that the county by itself, and then the Parks Department and the county, have played hot potato with that not really wanting to take care of it, not really wanting to have it under their budget,” he said.

“I don’t know what’s going to be different, other than it’ll be brand new.”