Tourism officials outline benefits of regional aquatics facility in push before election

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJuly 15, 2013 

Tri-City tourism officials say they've identified at least 18 aquatics events that could be held each year at the proposed regional aquatics facility and water park.

The events would draw an estimated 5,400 athletes and family members, and could mean another $1 million in visitor spending in the Tri-Cities, the officials said Monday.

"Sports-related events and tournaments are a major part of our (community's) tourism portfolio and I believe that the proposed aquatic center would greatly enhance and grow the tourism industry," said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau, during a news conference.

The political committee Citizens for Tri-Cities Regional Aquatic Center organized the event to highlight the economic benefits of the facility as part of its final push leading up to the Aug. 6 election. Voters in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick will be asked to decide on a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for the aquatics attraction. The sales tax bump would add one penny to a $10 purchase.

Ballots are to be mailed this week.

Along with aquatics events, Watkins said the proposed facility also would help draw other kinds of conventions and tournaments by providing a family-friendly amenity for attendees. Event planners search for destinations that have activities for participants during down time, she said. The facility also would make the Tri-Cities more attractive to businesses looking for new locations, Watkins said.

Kathy Moore, president of the Tri-Cities Hotel & Lodging Association, and Todd Stafek, head coach of Tri-City Channel Cats, also spoke in favor during the news conference.

Supporters of the aquatics proposal have been active as Aug. 6 nears, forming the political committee, distributing literature, appearing at community events and organizing news conferences to tout the benefits. The committee had raised about $3,500 as of last week.

Opponents haven't formed a similar group, but they have spoken out about drawbacks.

They say the facility wouldn't address the documented need for indoor public pool space in all three cities, and that tax dollars shouldn't be spent on a commercial-style water park.

"We could use another bridge around here if they just have to spend some of our money," opponent Rick Weiss of Pasco told the Herald last week.

Vic Epperly of Kennewick, another opponent, has proposed an alternative idea -- converting existing city pools in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick into year-round indoor pools with recreation features. He said that would do a better job of addressing the need in the community and would be a more appropriate use of tax money.

Epperly's idea involves a larger tax increase -- two-tenths of 1 percent. It hasn't gained any traction and won't be on the ballot.

Supporters say the proposed facility would be more than a water park -- providing community services such as year-round swimming lessons, water safety training and therapeutic options. It also would help ease the space crunch for local swim teams, which are growing, they said.

The proposed facility is planned to include a mix of indoor and outdoor elements, from a competitive pool to a training pool, leisure and activity pools, slides, river channels and a surf machine.

It would be built in west Pasco.


-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529;; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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