Kennewick Public Facilities District still pursuing Three Rivers expansion

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMarch 26, 2014 

The Kennewick Public Facilities District isn't giving up on its goal of expanding the Three Rivers Convention Center. A sales tax proposal that would have financed the work failed at the ballot box last fall, but "we are in no way backing off," said John Givens, a district board member.

"That expansion is needed," he said, adding that "we feel given enough time, we can go out and reach the people ... and enlist them to join us."

Givens took part Wednesday in a panel discussion about public facilities districts during a Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Leaders of the Richland and the Tri-Cities Regional public facilities districts also participated.

The Kennewick group owns the convention center, which opened in 2004. It's a financially healthy, regional facility that draws visitors who spend money throughout the Tri-Cities, Givens said. But space is a growing concern.

A SpringHill Suites by Marriott hotel that will connect to the convention center is under construction now, and that will help, officials have said. Still, the convention center is losing business because it's not big enough to accommodate many conventions and events, Givens said.

The facility on West Grandridge Boulevard has about 33,000 square feet of rentable space, including a 21,600-square-foot great hall. The public facilities district board last November proposed a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase in Kennewick to finance a $20 million expansion and improvement project.

The work would have involved adding about 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, plus more public, support and exterior space and parking. The great hall also would have been renovated.

The measure failed at the ballot box.

Givens said officials are working on a new plan. If it ultimately includes another sales tax proposal, the measure likely wouldn't appear on the ballot before next year, Givens told the Herald.

The Richland Public Facilities District is set to open the long-awaited Hanford Reach Interpretive Center in July. That facility, at the west end of Columbia Park, will include a 14,000-square-foot main level with two galleries, a multipurpose room, offices and a store, among other features. It also will have a 10,000-square-foot basement.

"We intend to be the go-to and connector facility for people who want to learn about the forces of nature that shaped the Mid-Columbia region," said Fred Raab of the Richland PFD board. He noted the Reach center is designed to be expanded.

Raab and Givens both also are members of the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District board.

That group last August proposed a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick to pay for a regional aquatics facility. The measure was embraced in Pasco, where the facility was to be built, but it failed overall.

Matt Watkins, the regional group's president, gave an update on its status. The board has decided to remain intact for now but isn't actively pursuing a project while it takes time to regroup and re-engage with the community.

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

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