Three Rivers Convention Center expansion open house in Kennewick informs voters

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldOctober 12, 2013 

Three Rivers Conventi#948E2.JPG

Artist's rendering of the proposed expansion of the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

COURTESY OF THE KENNEWICK PUBLIC FACILITIES DISTRICT

Ted Venetz and Bev Weisbrodt came to Saturday's open house at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick to learn more about the facility's proposed expansion.

They looked at plans and drawings.

They asked questions.

And by the time they were ready to leave, they said they had a better idea of how they will vote on the issue in next month's general election.

That was the point.

Three Rivers staffers and Kennewick Public Facilities District Board members were at the West Grandridge Boulevard facility for several hours Saturday to go over facts and figures and field questions from the public about the proposal.

The board is asking Kennewick voters to approve a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to finance a $20 million expansion and improvement project, which would involve adding about 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, as well as some additional public, support and exterior space and parking. The existing great hall also would be renovated.

The sales tax increase would add one penny to a $10 purchase, with the money used to pay back bond debt taken on to cover the project.

About 60 people showed up to the open house.

Corey Pearson, executive director of the Three Rivers Campus, which includes the convention center, said he was pleased with the turnout, noting people came with specific questions and generally seemed positive about the proposal.

Jude Strode, campus marketing manager, said it was important to the board and Three Rivers staff to give the public a forum to learn more.

Supporters say the expansion is needed to maintain existing business and draw new conventions and events to the facility, which today has about 33,000 square feet of rentable space, including the 21,600-square-foot great hall.

More than 380 events were held at the convention center in 2012, with total attendance exceeding 127,000 people.

But officials have said the convention center lost out on holding more than two dozen events in the last year because of space constraints, representing millions in lost visitor spending.

Officials also have pointed to a 2011 survey in which 44 percent of respondents reported their event would outgrow the facility within five years.

Venetz and Weisbrodt were among the last at the open house event Saturday, and they said they were glad they made the trip. Citizens "ought to pay attention to what's going on in their communities, that's for sure," Venetz said.

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

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