Several on Regional Public Facilities District board in favor of site in Pasco

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldDecember 11, 2012 

A regional aquatics center is inching closer to reality after the city of Pasco found a new location and several members of the regional board behind the project indicated it's a suitable spot.

"It's an extremely good location for this facility. It can be seen from (Interstate) 182 very well," said Steve Young, vice president of the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District board, during the group's meeting Monday.

The regional board could decide in January whether to send the project to voters.

Members heard about the alternative site -- needed after plans to build the aquatics center at TRAC in Pasco fell through -- at a meeting last month. But the board wasn't ready to commit to moving forward, largely because of budget questions.

Some of those questions still remain, including about how any operations shortfall would be covered. But Young, who led the board committee that recently met with Pasco city and public facilities district leaders to go over numbers, said he feels the project is viable and sound.

"The project did look good to us when we left that night (after the meeting)," he said. "We felt much better about the project when we left that night than we had prior to that."

The new proposed site is near the Broadmoor Park Outlet Mall off Sandifur Parkway; the Pasco City Council last week approved buying it.

The $35 million aquatics center would have indoor and outdoor features. It's contingent on voters in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick signing on off on a 0.1 percent sales-tax increase to foot the bill.

In the next few weeks, a different committee of the regional board will meet to discuss the campaign, said Matt Watkins, board president, who's also mayor of Pasco.

He praised the alternative site, saying it's a good location for the long-discussed aquatics center.

The regional board the last couple of years has worked to zero in on a project to pursue. Four possibilities rose to the top -- an aquatics center, a performing arts center, contributing money to the proposed Hanford Reach Interpretive Center and an expansion of the Three Rivers Convention Center.

The aquatics center proved the most popular, based on the results of a community survey released in the summer of 2011.

The regional board a few months ago made that project its top pick. But Franklin County commissioners in a split vote later withdrew TRAC from the market -- throwing the project into limbo.

Young, who's also mayor of Kennewick, said after Monday's meeting that it may appear the process is moving slowly. But now "we have a good level of facts to move forward to get the project done," he said.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com

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