Supporters of expanding the Three Rivers Convention Center may be thinking of that proverbial phrase, “three is a charm.”
But it will take more than luck to get the votes needed to approve yet another attempt to publicly fund improvements to the Three Rivers campus.
It will take thorough preparation, time and a more ambitious campaign to ensure the public has the right information about whatever plan ends up being put forth to the community.
The Kennewick Public Facilities District Board is scheduled to meet July 27 to discuss the possibility of asking voters to once again approve the idea.
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Last year’s proposal would have added 50,000 square feet to the convention center and 30,000 square feet to the Toyota Center, and built a 2,300-seat Broadway-style theater called “The Link” connecting the two buildings.
The rub, of course, was that to make the $35 million project a reality, Kennewick voters needed to approve a two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase. The measure failed 292 votes shy of a simple majority. In 2013, an effort to expand the convention center also failed at the ballot box.
While the loss last August was disappointing to those pushing for it, the close margin has encouraged them to try again.
It will be up to the board to put the measure before voters, but the Kennewick City Council will have to concur with the decision.
Mayor Steve Young, while not endorsing the plan, said organizers will have to do a better job educating the public about the request. We agree.
Last year there were people who questioned on Facebook why the Tri-Cities needed another movie theater and why the public should pay for it. Young said many people did not understand the nature of the sales tax, confusing it with a property tax.
After the loss, we said that lessons can be learned from failure and we encouraged the backers of The Link to regroup and try again.
Expansion at the Three Rivers Convention Center has been needed for a long time.
Events at our Tri-City facility have been on the decline because groups opt instead to go to Yakima or Spokane where there is more capacity, and that means our community is losing out on tourism dollars.
Convention attendees fan out to hotels, restaurants and shops whenever they visit, benefiting that community’s economy. The Tri-Cities could have a bigger slice of the convention pie if our center were able to hold larger groups.
But that argument does not sway some people. There were plenty of citizens who completely understood the proposal last year, and were adamantly opposed.
Some said it wasn’t right for all Kennewick shoppers to pay for something not everyone can afford to use, and that those with lower incomes would be unfairly burdened.
Others thought the proposal didn’t do enough to address potential traffic congestion. And there always will be people philosophically opposed to more taxes regardless of the project or public service provided.
Still, the vote was close last year, despite some confusion over the issue.
If Kennewick PFD Board members decide to make another run at The Link project, they need to have a response ready to counter all the arguments against it they know will come up during the campaign.
We can’t make a recommendation on a proposal that is still in the planning stages. But we can say that if the board tries to put a measure on the ballot, it won’t stand a chance without a strong marketing plan behind it.