Tri-Cities PFD could send aquatics center to voters

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 8, 2013 

After months of study and discussion -- and a site-related setback that temporarily plunged plans into limbo -- the regional board charged with pursuing a public project could decide this week to send an aquatics center proposal to voters.

The Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District board is scheduled to meet at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday at Pasco City Hall.

The decision would cap years of work to bring a project to a vote. Matt Watkins, president of the regional board, said he's not sure his colleagues will be ready to make the call Wednesday, but it's a possibility.

"I personally hope we're able to make that decision and move forward," he said. "I also know these kinds of projects that involve all the cities haven't happened often in Tri-City history. We're walking very carefully to make sure everybody is on board."

Watkins also is mayor of Pasco.

Steve Young, mayor of Kennewick and vice president of the regional board, said he, too, hopes to see a decision soon.

"We've done due diligence. We've evaluated this project against the other projects. It appears this project is important to our community on a regional level," Young said.

The nine-member board last summer made a regional aquatics center its first choice for a project. But the plan at the time was to locate the $35 million facility at TRAC in Pasco.

And Franklin County commissioners eventually pulled TRAC from the market, leaving the aquatics center project in question.

Then, an alternative site emerged.

The Pasco City Council in early December agreed to buy property near the Broadmoor Park Outlet Mall off Sandifur Parkway as a possible home for the aquatics center.

At its meeting later that month, the regional board discussed -- and generally seemed to like -- the site. Members didn't commit to moving forward with a ballot measure at that time, though, largely because of budget questions.

Since then, a board committee has met to talk about finances and ballot language, among other topics. The committee is scheduled to make a report to the full board Wednesday.

The aquatics center is dependent on voters in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland agreeing to a sales-tax increase -- of 0.1 percent -- to cover costs. A measure could go on the ballot this summer or fall.

The regional board worked for a couple of years to settle on a project, with the top contenders a performing arts center, expanding the Three Rivers Convention Center, contributing to the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center and the aquatics center.

A community survey showed the strongest support for an aquatics center and a performing arts center.

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