Kennewick sets sights on expanding convention center

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldJune 27, 2012 

Kennewick may not wait on the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District to move forward with plans to expand the Three Rivers Convention Center.

John Givens told the Kennewick City Council on Tuesday that it can't afford to wait two years to see what happens with the regional district.

Givens, a board member of the Kennewick and Tri-Cities Regional public facilities districts, said he believes the intent of the Kennewick Public Facilities District is to move as quickly as possible on the convention center, which may mean having competing projects on the ballot.

A $15 million expansion of the convention center is among four projects the regional board is considering, along with an aquatics center, a performing arts center and $14.5 million for the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center.

The Kennewick Public Facilities District board plans to add a 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall onto the convention center.

The regional board recently voted 8-1 to limit a sales tax request to 0.1 percent, raising about $39.5 million over the next 25 years. The members meet 6:30 p.m. today at Kennewick City Hall to decide which project to fund.

That would leave another 0.1 percent the Kennewick Public Facilities District can ask city voters to approve, Givens said.

Givens, who voted against limiting the regional sales tax request to 0.1 percent, said it was inappropriate to limit funding before deciding on a project.

With the way the cities are growing, more space is needed at the convention center, he said. Officials are already hearing that groups are going elsewhere because there isn't enough space to accommodate them.

There isn't a way to pay for the expansion without the sales tax, Givens said. A 0.1 percent sales tax in Kennewick would be enough to pay for the $15 million expansion.

The city public facilities district is negotiating with Kennewick hotelier Vijay Patel, who plans to build a 102-room hotel next to the Three Rivers Convention Center. The board's president, Barb Johnson, said earlier that the hotel and expansion would benefit from going on at the same time.

Councilman Bob Parks said he can't understand why the regional public facilities district didn't decided to ask voters to pay two pennies on every $10, instead of only one penny added to a $10 purchase and pay for two projects.

Councilman Don Britain, who is on the regional board, said the regional public facilities board thought asking voters to pass a 0.2 percent sales tax with a $80 million price tag would be too much to ask. That's why members decided to go for the 0.1 percent sales tax hike in 2013.

Givens said he thinks the aquatic center is the favored project.

"It is kind of a sexy project," he said.

But when it comes to regional economic benefit, the convention center is critical, Givens said. And it is the only project of the four that will be self-sustainable with its operations.

It is immensely important to enhance the convention center as it is the only one in the area, Councilman Paul Parish said. It fills up hotels and bring people into the community.

Parks said while his first choice among the four regional projects is an aquatics center, it doesn't make sense to tear out TRAC because the area would lose the events currently held there. It should be somewhere else, he said. The convention center would be his second choice among the four projects.

Parks said he would be happy to have Kennewick seek the other 0.1 percent sales tax and lead the way with the convention center.

Parish said he believes they would need to move forward on getting the sales tax request for the convention center on the ballot.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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