Convention center sales tax proposal failing

Tri-City HeraldNovember 5, 2013 

Kennewick Public Facilities District results

Kennewick Public Facilities District supporters Calvin Dudney, left, Corey Pearson and Mike McWhorter waits for results in the Kennewick Public Facilities District ballot measure Tuesday at Three Rivers Convention Center.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Kennewick voters Tuesday night were rejecting a sales tax increase to finance the expansion and improvement of the Three Rivers Convention Center.

The one-tenth of 1 percent increase was failing with 4,827 no votes, or about 58 percent against, according to the initial round of results released close to 9 p.m.

An estimated 15,000 ballots are left to be counted in Benton County.

The next update should be available by 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Supporters told the Herald they were disappointed by the initial results but will keep tabs as more ballots are counted in the coming days.

Mike McWhorter, campaign chairman of Citizens for Expansion, which worked to promote the proposal, said the project is needed and wanted by the public, even if people were hesitant about a tax increase to pay for it.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We were hoping the message got out and the people understood the value of what it would bring to the economy of Kennewick and the region.”

Corey Pearson, executive director of the Three Rivers Campus, which includes the convention center, said voting trends from election night often hold. “If that’s the case, then we live to take it on another day or evaluate where to go from there,” he told the Herald.

The sales tax increase would add one penny to a $10 purchase, with the money used to pay back bond debt incurred to finance the $20 million project.

The work would include adding about 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, plus some additional space, renovations to the great hall and 500 parking spots.

The convention center on West Grandridge Boulevard today has about 33,000 square feet of rentable space, including a 21,600-square-foot great hall.

Supporters have said the expansion is needed to maintain existing business and bring in new events and conventions to the facility. The convention center held more than 380 events last year, but it also lost out on bringing in several others — and the community lost out on the associated visitor spending — because of limited space, supporters have said. They’ve also said some existing events are outgrowing the facility.

The sales tax increase would have no sunset, with the revenue used for further expansion and improvement of the facility once the bond debt is paid off.

Citizens for Expansion raised more than $20,000 to promote the proposal. There was no similar organized opposition, although a former Kennewick mayor spoke out publicly against it. Vic Epperly has said it would be better for the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District, which overlaps with the Kennewick district, to go after the full two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase allowed for public facilities districts under state law.

The regional group could then address over time all the regional facilities needs the public wants, including a convention center expansion, he has said.

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