Tri-Cities Regional PFD meeting to settle board's path after failed aquatics proposal

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMarch 9, 2014 

The regional group behind a failed aquatics facility proposal is expected to settle on a path forward -- at least for the immediate future -- during a meeting Wednesday.

The Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District board is scheduled to gather Wednesday -- its first session since November, when members spent three hours talking about reasons their proposal sank, going over their options and listening to public comments.

During recent months, board members visited the Richland, Pasco and Kennewick city councils and public facilities districts to gather feedback and direction.

Matt Watkins, president of the regional PFD board, said he doesn't expect the regional group to pursue another project right now.

The feedback has leaned more toward keeping the group in place, but in a "maintenance mode" in which it meets less frequently until conditions change, he told the Herald. Watkins also is Pasco's mayor.

The aquatics proposal -- on the ballot last August in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick -- asked for a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for an indoor and outdoor facility, with features ranging from a competition pool to slides, river channels and a surf simulator.

It failed with 55 percent of the voters opposing it.

The regional group formed in 2010 to pursue facilities no one city could afford alone. It picked an aquatics center as its first choice after also mulling a performing arts center, contributing to the planned Hanford Reach Interpretive Center and expanding the Three Rivers Convention Center.

The Reach center, a project of the Richland Public Facilities District, is set to open this summer.

The Kennewick Public Facilities District proposed a sales tax increase last fall for the convention center project.

The cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick have contributed a combined total of up to $50,000 a year for the regional PFD's operations.

If the group goes into a maintenance mode, the operating costs likely would be far less, said Stan Strebel, Pasco's deputy city manager, who's provided staff support for the regional board.

Watkins said he expects discussion on ways to get the community more involved in the group, such as possibly adding more community representatives.

He said he views the aquatics vote as key for the community. "We don't wake up one morning and we're suddenly one Tri-Cities. We've been on a march for probably two to three decades," he said. "But we did have a Tri-City vote on something. That is, I think, important for the Tri-Cities."

Wednesday's meeting is at 5:45 p.m. at Pasco City Hall, 525 N. Third Ave.

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

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