With $100 million in four regional projects before it, the Regional Public Facilities District Board meets Wednesday to decide which one to put to voters next year in calling for a 0.1 percent sales tax increase needed to built it.
A $35 million aquatics center, a $36 million performing arts center, $14.5 million for the proposed Hanford Reach Interpretive Center and a $15 million new exhibit hall at Three Rivers Convention Center have come though two years of discussions about each project's construction costs, potential for success, operational expenses and community appeal.
The regional board, which has nine members from the city councils and public facilities districts in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, voted at its June 13 meeting to seek no more than a 0.1 percent increase on the sales tax, which could produce about $39.5 million over 25 years.
Regardless of which project the board selects, no project can be built without voters in the three cities approving the 0.1 percent sales tax increase.
The board hired consultant E.D. Hovee & Co. of Vancouver, Wash., to evaluate each project for its viability and potential risks. The 36-page report did not rank the projects but focused on financial issues more than amenities and appeal to the public.
Performing arts center
The $36 million performing arts center, which is proposed to be located near the Three Rivers Convention Center, would be built as two venues, a 2,500-seat theater and a more intimate 300-seat theater. As proposed, it would rely entirely on the regional facilities district's revenue from the 0.1 percent sales tax forconstruction funds.
Hovee's report noted the performing arts center could fall as much as 39 percent short on revenues to meet its first-year budget of $1 million.
Hovee said the larger theater could be too large for anything other than national touring shows, which might price it out of range for regional or local productions.
Charles Eaton, a spokesman for the Arts Center Task Force, which is promoting the center, said fundraising and endowments obtained through the nonprofit group would supplement the shortfalls.
The proposed partnership with the performing arts center and the Kennewick Public Facilities District also could provide a financial backstop for any uncovered deficit, according to Hovee, in quoting a memo from the Arts Center Task Force. That backstop would ultimately come back to the city of Kennewick, which guarantees operational costs for the Three Rivers Convention Center.
The $35 million aquatics center would be a proposed reuse of a portion of Pasco's TRAC facility off Road 68. The plan presented by the Pasco Public Facilities District and endorsed by theTri-Cities Aquatic Task Force calls for Franklin County commissioners to transferat no cost the TRAC facilities to the city of Pasco or the Pasco Public Facilities District.
Hovee said the proposal would have the regional facilities district pay for all construction and up to $200,000 per year in operational costs.
Hovee noted the $3.4 million annual operational budget would have an estimated $400,000 deficit, with half of it being Pasco Public Facilities District's responsibility.
But Hovee said the shortfall could be more. A national industry study on regional centers in 2007 found it is "not uncommon for aquatics centers to require up to a 50 percent operating subsidy," Hovee reported.
This potential risk would fall first to Pasco, Hovee said, adding the regional facilities district would be unaffected until the deficit became so great as to force the aquatics center to close.
Convention center exhibit hall
A 46,000-square-foot expansion of the Three Rivers Convention Center with an exhibit hall would need $15 million in regional facilities district funds.
Hovee reported the project could produce about 96 percent annually of its $2.8 million operational costs and has potential to grow the revenue over time, eliminating all deficit.
It would be a joint project with the Kennewick Public Facilities District and would continue to have the city of Kennewick as a backstop guarantor for operational deficits.
Hovee said the convention center expansion also provides growth opportunities with a commitment for a hotel expansion and partnering with the performing arts center proposal.
Reach Interpretive Center
The Hanford Reach Interpretive Center requests $14.5 million in regional public facilities district funds to build a $21.6 million building that would be the second half of a proposed 61,000-square-foot facility in Columbia Park west of Edison Street.
The project would not begin until the first phase, consisting of a 26,000-square-foot building, was completed.
Hovee's review shows operational costs would be $800,000 for the first phase and up to$2.1 million when the full project is completed. The earned income is estimated at about58 percent, which would put the facility at risk if there is not enough support income, Hovee said.
Hovee's report suggested the regional facilities district require that the Reach project complete its capital fundraising as a condition for receiving support. He also suggested the Richland Public Facilities District Board, which is promoting the Reach project, commit to covering operational deficits with a "backstop funding agreement."
Wednesday's meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 5:45 p.m. at Kennewick City Hall.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org