Kennewick voters will be asked for a sales tax increase aimed at improving the Toyota Center, giving the Windermere Theater its own dedicated space and expanding the Three Rivers Convention Center.
The Kennewick Public Facilities District board this week unanimously approved putting the tax increase on the Aug. 2 primary ballot.
The projects, which would be part of a structure called The Link, would shift the convention center campus’ main approach to the side facing Vista Field.
That’s where the Port of Kennewick plans to develop a large commercial and residential area in the coming decades.
Facilities district officials say The Link project is necessary to give the Tri-Cities and the Mid-Columbia an arts and entertainment venue befitting a community of its size, including the ability to attract national entertainers and events.
We have three projects in one and every one of these projects is important to the community and the survival of the Three Rivers campus.
Corey Pearson, facilities district executive director
“We have three projects in one and every one of these projects is important to the community and the survival of the Three Rivers campus,” said Corey Pearson, the PFD’s executive director.
The Kennewick City Council voted in mid-February to give the district the authority to seek a sales tax increase to pay for the projects. If approved, it would add 2 cents to every $10 sale and would generate $3.5 million annually.
The project includes a 2,300-seat theater for the Windermere Theater, which currently uses a temporary stage in the Toyota Center. And a 50,000-square-foot convention center expansion and a 30,000-square-foot lobby would connect the Toyota Center to the convention and theater complex.
The Toyota Center would be improved with a new 150-foot-wide, two-story entrance, renovated seating with more of it handicap-accessible, new video boards and concession stand upgrades.
2,300 seats in Windermere Theater
50,000 more square feet in convention center
30,000 square feet connecting Toyota Center to convention/theater complex
The PFD last pursued a tax increase to expand the convention center in 2013 but it was rejected by voters. Pearson said that rejection stemmed from the public not having a better understanding of the convention center’s importance since it gets used more often by out-of-town visitors for conventions.
As a result, they added the permanent theater and improving the Toyota Center, which are important to local residents, said board Chairwoman Barbara Johnson. Moving the main entrance to the convention center complex to face Vista Field also helps with the future setup of what could be a massive arts and entertainment district.
Johnson also noted that the sales tax will be paid by anyone shopping in Kennewick, not just city residents.
If we continue to expand and bring more people into the Tri-Cities they will eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and sleep in our hotels.
Barbara Johnson, facilities district chairwoman
“If we continue to expand and bring more people into the Tri-Cities they will eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and sleep in our hotels,” she said.
The project has been criticized by at least one city council member and a few citizens, saying it was an unreasonable financial burden on city residents because it hits low-income earners the hardest.
The Port of Kennewick is taking a neutral stance on The Link project, said board President Skip Novakovich. He noted that the port has opted not to use tax dollars to develop Vista Field, where it also plans a performing arts venue, albeit privately funded.
Still, he doesn’t view the facilities district’s proposal as a competitor or rival.
“We think it’s going to be complementary to Vista Field,” he said.