Spokane County Won’t Impose Property Tax on August Ballot for Avista Stadium Improvements

May 19 – County taxpayers may eventually be asked to fund improvements to the Spokane Indians baseball stadium, but they won’t vote on a proposal this summer.

Spokane County and the Spokane Indians are not asking about Avista Stadium in the August primary ballot.

In recent months, the county – which owns Avista Stadium – and Indians have considered asking voters to approve a temporary property tax that would be used to fund needed improvements to the 64-year-old park.

Regardless of where the money comes from, the Avista Stadium needs major investment if the Indians continue to play there.

New Major League Baseball requirements force minor league teams to upgrade their facilities, primarily for the benefit of players. Avista Stadium, one of the oldest minor league facilities in the West, needs more extensive work than most ballparks. Among a long list of mandatory upgrades, the stadium needs a renovated playing field, a better lighting system, improved dugouts and expanded pavilions.

Upgrades won’t come cheap. At the low end, they could cost $16 million, but the total cost could top $23 million if the County and Indians choose to go beyond Major League requirements and make upgrades. optional for spectators.

Spokane Indians President Chris Duff said there wasn’t enough time to prepare a strong bid for the August ballot. “It was a bit rushed and forced,” he said.

Duff said Indians and the county are considering asking voters to approve a bundled proposal.

This bundled property tax application would have combined upgrades to Avista Stadium with investments in improving other parks throughout the county. Voters would pay more, but their taxes would fund new trails and other recreational improvements instead of just improving the Indians baseball field.

Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns said he doesn’t think a ballot measure is “ready for prime time.” He also said he was generally opposed to the concept of grouping.

“If it was about the stadium, then the stadium should be able to stand on its own,” Kerns said.

Duff said he’s not sure the county and Indians will ask voters the question in the November ballot. So at this point, it’s unclear how the county and the Indians will come up with the money.

“I think there are a lot of things that are still in play that we need to resolve before it comes back to the commissioners,” County Commissioner Mary Kuney said.

County Commissioner Al French said he would like to see more stakeholders contributing to the work at Avista Stadium.

“I’m not in favor of the county footing the entire bill,” he said.

The Indians will help pay for the improvements, but the question is how much. The team has expressed willingness to pay an increased annual lease – the Indians currently pay the county about $25,000 a year – and up to $3 million upfront for improvements.

That’s not a big enough contribution, Kerns said.

“It’s a failure for me,” he said. “The biggest benefit for this is the baseball team, so I think it’s more on the baseball team to figure that out, not necessarily the county or the taxpayers.”

French said he would like the state legislature to fund part of the project.

“They’ve had a budget that’s been overflowing with money here now for a few years,” he said. “They could probably throw a few shillings at us.”

French said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, might be able to help secure funding. In addition to being a state senator, Billig is an Indian co-owner and works part-time as the team’s CEO.

“If he can’t invest in it, why should anyone else?” said French.

Billig said the county is welcome to ask the Legislature to help fund improvements to Avista Stadium, but he won’t get personally involved.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to push for that,” Billig said. “If they were to seek funding related to a facility used by a company I was involved with, I would not lobby for that money.”

The state’s minor league teams have previously lobbied the Legislature as a group, Duff said, for funding for their public facilities. He said ball clubs around the state started talking about lobbying the Legislature in 2023.

Kuney stressed that she did not want the Indians to leave. She said she heard from many voters who were strong on keeping the area’s only professional baseball team.

“Everyone pretty much wants to do what they can to make sure the Indians stay in Spokane,” she said.

Spokane County and the Indians will soon have to determine their funding sources.

The Indians’ ballpark must comply with the new regulations by the start of the 2026 season. If the team and county don’t start making incremental progress now, they may miss that deadline.

“We have to start making decisions as a community over the next six months,” Duff said. There’s not much time left.”

Penny D. Jackson