The Kennewick Public Facilities District is moving forward on planning an expansion of the Three Rivers Convention Center that is expected to make it more competitive in the region.
The facilities district board recently directed ALSC Architects of Spokane to determine the possible expansion options within a $15 million budget.
The expansion will match the look of the current convention center, and may include an exhibit hall, meeting rooms, lobby space, as well as storage. But the exact square footage has not yet been determined, said Corey Pearson, executive director for the Three Rivers Campus, which includes the convention center, Toyota Center and Toyota Arena.
At the moment, the Tri-Cities tends to compete with Yakima and Vancouver, Wash., for business, Pearson said. Adding space will help make the convention center more competitive in the region.
The convention center has a 21,600-square-foot ballroom that is also used as exhibit space and 11,500 square feet of meeting rooms, Pearson said.
There are a number of events that end up using space at the Toyota Center as well. For example, the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers uses the convention center, Toyota Center and parking lot to have enough exhibition space, Pearson said.
The two main reasons the center loses business is not having enough space and not having an on-site, attached hotel, Pearson said.
When meeting planners are looking for a site, they set up a criteria list, he said. A certain amount of space and an attached hotel can be on that list.
The public facilities district is addressing both issues. Pearson said it is still in discussions with A-1 Hospitality Group for an attached hotel. Kennewick hotelier Vijay Patel, who owns A-1 Hospitality Group, plans to build a 102-room hotel next to the Three Rivers Convention Center.
There is room on the property for the hotel and convention center expansion, he said.
The public facilities district hopes to have the convention center expansion shovel ready around Jan. 1, Pearson said. That will include having a good idea of the budget.
What it doesn't have yet is the funding, he said. The district is exploring multiple options, including grant funding.
The public facilities district has previously discussed asking voters to approve a 0.1 percent sales tax for the expansion.
The convention center expansion has been one of the projects being considered by the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District. The regional board had decided to fund a $36 million aquatic center, contingent on it being at TRAC in Pasco. But the Franklin County commissioners withdrew an offer to have TRAC be the site, leaving the project without a home.
The regional board gave the Pasco Public Facilities District until its Nov. 7 meeting to present alternative sites for the aquatic facility. Its goal is to have a project on the ballot for voters to consider in November 2013.
Other projects that have been considered are: putting $14.5 million toward building the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center in the west end of Columbia Park and building a $35 million performing arts center as part of the Three Rivers Convention Center campus.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org