PFD votes for Pasco aquatic center

By John Trumbo, Tri-City HeraldJune 28, 2012 

A $35 million aquatic center at Pasco's TRAC facility off Road 68 is the first choice of the Regional Public Facilities District Board.

The board voted 7-2 Wednesday, with Kennewick city Councilman Don Britain and Kennewick Public Facilities District member John Givens opposed, though they said they will support the aquatics center proposal, if the project proves feasible.

Rebecca Francik, Pasco City Council member, made the motion at the regional board's special meeting, noting that surveys showed the aquatic center had the strongest public support of the four projects being considered as a regional project.

The other projects were a $36 million performing arts center, $15 million to expand the Three Rivers Convention Center with an exhibit hall, and $14.5 million to help build the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center.

Givens said he was going to stand with the Kennewick facilities district's need for the exhibit hall, which he said was the only project with the prospect of not having an operational deficit.

John Fox, Richland's mayor, initially tried to put a $200,000 limit on how much the regional facilities district would contribute to the aquatics center's annual operational deficit.

But he retracted the idea after learning the full board would have to approve a more detailed aquatics center proposal before agreeing to put it before voters in Pasco, Richland and Kennewick next year.

The board decision to put the project on the ballot will require two members on the board from each city support it. The board has nine members: two from each city council and one from each city public facility district.

Voters must support a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to pay for bonds that will build the regional project.

If the aquatics center proposal isn't financially feasible, the board can select one or more of the other three projects.

As proposed, the aquatics center would have an indoor water park of 28,000 square feet, an indoor 25-meter competition pool and an outdoor water park of 90,000 square feet.

It is hoped to have 370,000 annual admissions and could generate enough income to cover 90 percent of its costs.

A study by E. D. Hovee Co. of Vancouver noted that the aquatics center might incur up to $400,000 a year in operational deficits, but it could be more, based on a national industry study.

Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said the regional board should not be liable for more than $200,000 of annual operation costs for the aquatics center.

"I especially don't want to see Kennewick having to pay the extra costs," he said.

Fred Raab, chairman of the Richland Public Facilities District Board, voted for the aquatics center, but reluctantly. "This gives me distress," he said.

"If we choose this one we're turning off the others. This may be premature without the (financial) details we need," he added.

Kennewick's Britain said his no vote on the aquatics center was because of too many unknowns. "It's a moving target," he said.

One of the unknowns is whether the aquatics center can be placed at TRAC, as proposed.

Gary Crutchfield, Pasco city manager and executive director for the Pasco Public Facilities District, said Franklin County commissioners have not decided about turning over part of the TRAC facility to the city or the facilities district for the aquatic center.

"There is no deal," he said.

If the deal doesn't happen, another site must be found and that could draw some money away from the aquatic center's construction budget.

Matt Watkins, president of the regional facilities district board, said he was very much in favor of the aquatics center, at TRAC or anywhere else.

The regional board briefly talked about changing from seeking a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to a 0.2 percent increase.

But Young said that would mean more delay in the decision-making process.

Fox observed that the Kennewick facilities district board intends to go after a 0.1 percent sales tax increase so it can move quickly on building the exhibit hall.

"If they do proceed, then it permanently limits (us) from seeking a 0.2 percent. And it would leave the performing arts center in a no-man's land," Fox said.

Givens said the Kennewick board "is adamant" about expanding the convention center, and Kennewick's call for 0.1 percent on the ballot next year could compete with the regional board's measure for 0.1 percent to build the aquatics center.

"Keep in simple with a 0.1 percent project," said Sandra Kent, Richland city council member.

Jim Wade, a Kennewick resident, told the board the projects all looked great, "if we had the money."

Wade added: "A lot of people can't afford this stuff, not now."

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