Convention center project right move for Kennewick

July 11, 2012 

Like many of our readers, we'd been looking forward to learning the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District's choice for a publicly funded project.

But regardless of the decision, we also were worried about the fate of the three projects that did not win the board's blessing.

Now that the regional PFD has chosen a $35 million aquatics center as its favored project, what will become of the proposals for the $36 million performing arts center, the $15 million expansion to the Three Rivers Convention Center and the $14.5 million needed to help complete the languishing Hanford Reach Interpretive Center project?

In the case of the convention center, Kennewick made its intentions clear.

With or without the support of the regional board, the Kennewick Public Facilities District is going to add the 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall.

Even before the regional PFD's vote, city leaders said they could not afford to wait for that group to take a final action and put a proposal before Tri-City voters.

It turns out it didn't matter anyway, as the nod went to the aquatics center, possibly at the TRAC facility in Pasco.

When the regional PFD voted to limit a sales tax request for its pet project to 0.1 percent, that left the door open for Kennewick to ask its city voters for another 0.1 percent. Had the regional PFD voted for 0.2 percent -- the maximum sales tax increase allowed under state law -- it would have shut out the possibility for Kennewick to do the same.

As much as we favor a regional approach to civic projects, Kennewick's plan to forge ahead on its own makes sense.

More space is needed at the convention center, and more amenities are needed to attract new business and retain existing conferences that require more display space than is currently available.

It is expected that a 0.1 percent sales tax increase in Kennewick could pay for the entire expansion. That comes to a dime on a $100 purchase.

Given the clear demand for more exhibit and convention space in the Tri-Cities, the proposal to convert the TRAC in Pasco from an exhibit and event facility to a water park needs to be thoroughly vetted.

Yes, TRAC loses money and must be subsidized by Pasco and Franklin County to stay open. It's a public facility, and such is the nature of the beast. The question isn't whether it loses money, but whether the benefits justify the costs.

It is anticipated that the water park would operate at a loss as well. And the convention center in Kennewick is subsidized by public funding.

Even so, Kennewick is smart to pursue a way to expand the convention center, no matter the fate of TRAC.

It's exciting to see the regional PFD make a decision on a project to pursue and -- fingers-crossed -- eventually present to the voters.

We're glad to see incremental action on community projects, some of which have been talked about for decades.

What will become of the performing arts center proposal has yet to be determined, but the idea has new life and a dedicated constituency.

We expect the Reach project to soldier on in some fashion.

In the end, it will be up to the community to decide if an aquatics center is worth an additional 0.1 percent sales tax increase, if final plans for that project meet board approval and it becomes a choice on a ballot.

And Kennewick will face a challenge getting voters to approve a 0.1 sales tax increase for a convention center expansion, as tax increases are a tough sell around here.

The project is a lot more palatable given the price tag -- $15 million isn't much in terms of public projects -- and by bringing in more convention business, it is guaranteed to generate jobs and revenue for the community.

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