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As effort to fund Avista Stadium upgrades continues, team turns to state for help

Jmar Gambol

A coalition of minor-league and independent baseball teams that includes the Spokane Indians is asking the Washington legislature for money to help pay for repairs and upgrades to their stadiums.

The Indians are asking state lawmakers for $5.8 million to help fund required and optional upgrades at Avista Stadium in Spokane Valley, which turns 65 this year.

In total, the upgrades are estimated to cost about $23 million, with the work to take place in phases over the next few years. The majority of the upgrades are mandated by Major League Baseball and apply to the working areas of the stadium, from improved facilities for players to better lighting for the field. Other planned improvements are aimed at enhancing the visitor experience.

Avista Stadium is owned by Spokane County, but commissioners have been reluctant to help foot the bill. In response to the team’s request for $11 million, commissioners offered about $8 million, though that offer was made in the form of matching funds – if the Indians come up with less, the county would contribute less. And commissioners want to see a substantial increase in the rent the Indians pay to use the stadium.

This week, Spokane Valley leaders voted to contribute $2 million to the upgrade effort this year. The Indians have pledged $2 million. The team is looking at multiple sources to assemble the rest of the funding.

Jake Mayson, public policy director for Greater Spokane, Incorporated (GSI), said he is optimistic the state’s share will be approved this year.

“There generally seems to be a sense of support for these asks. And I think our strength here is that we’re a member of a larger coalition of other minor league teams that have been asked to make these improvements,” Mayson said. “So overall it’s a 24-million dollar ask, between multiple minor league teams.”

Spokane Valley city council member Brandi Peetz was part of a Spokane-area group that, along with GSI, traveled to Olympia in late January to advocate for the stadium money and funding for other regional capital projects. Getting more commitments now, she said, could help encourage other funders to get on board.

I understand needing that money now rather than later [the Indians] might be able to get more support. There were lots of hopeful conversations happening in Olympia, so I hope this is helpful,” Peetz said at the January 31 meeting in which Spokane Valley’s contribution was approved.

In context of a proposed $70 billion state budget, $24 million isn’t that much money. But state Sen. Mark Mullet, an influential figure in writing the capital budget, said the path might be more difficult than the numbers imply.

“I would say it is a heavy political lift, and the main reason is, it’s not in the governor’s budget. That is creating the political challenge for me,” Mullet said. “This is one of the issues that I’ve had to invest a little more time in than I’d planned on. But it’s an important issue to try to get to the finish line.”

A statement furnished by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office summarized the governor’s views at this point in the process.

“Given the state’s many critical capital funding needs, including a new state psychiatric hospital and housing, [the stadium money] was one of many requests not included in the governor’s proposed capital budget,” Inslee’s office said.

Mayson and Mullet emphasized the legislative session is still young; a lot can happen between now and when the state budget emerges from lawmakers in late spring.

The Spokane Indians will continue exploring other funding sources to create a blend of public and private money. The MLB-mandated upgrades are to be completed by the beginning of the 2026 baseball season.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.