Spokane arena doesn’t make money, but it does make … smiles, I guess?

Hey look, it’s two happy-ending sports venue stories in one day! Or happyish endings, anyway: The Spokane Spokesman-Review reports that the Spokane Arena, built in 1995 at a cost to the city of $62.2 million, is profitable, draws concerts that otherwise wouldn’t be likely to stop by eastern Washington (Cher! Three times!), and is home to minor-league hockey and arena football.All of which is great, until you read the fine print:

  • The arena “reported an average operating profit of $962,000” from 2004-2012, but that’s just an operating profit. If you count construction debt, the arena is losing a few million dollars a year.
  • Some of those concerts would likely play in Spokane regardless: “Being the biggest city between Minneapolis and Seattle means the arena hosts some acts that can’t afford not to play along the way, said Kevin Twohig, the Public Facilities District’s chief executive officer.”
  • The PFD and the teams that play at the arena already want a new one in the next decade or so, because, as Twohig says, “You’d have a hard time finding a 30-year-old arena in a major market right now in the U.S.” All the other kids are doing it!

There are some bright spots here: Spokane’s arena was fairly cheap compared to a major-league facility. And as economist Geoffrey Propheter (you remember Geoffrey Propheter) points out, there are intangible benefits to an arena as well:

The intangible benefits of the Arena are by definition difficult to measure, but they include public use of the facility for events such as graduations or the Washington State B basketball tournaments it hosts each year. If arenas are built with public money and those aims in mind, Propheter said, the goal is more focused on the intangible benefits than the tangible ones.

“The policy objective is not to increase the amount of cash in someone’s pocketbook or jobs,” he said. “Instead the goal is to give the community a place to engage in certain activities, and that makes people happy. That happiness is difficult to quantify, but it is a real sense of happiness for the community.”

That’s absolutely a consideration: If getting to host some NCAA tournament games every few years and having arena football and minor-league hockey and all that comes with the new arena (Cher! Three times!) when you’re practically on the Idaho border is worth the $62 million price tag, then far be it from me to argue. Spokaners might want to be prepared to put a price on happiness before the next arena bill is presented in a few years, though, just in case.

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