We’re sorry that voters in Kennewick rejected The Link, a project which would have expanded the Three Rivers Convention complex and provided much-needed upgrades to the Toyota Center.
But we can’t say we’re surprised. It was the third time the Kennewick Public Facilities District had brought the proposal to voters in five years.
Unfortunately, proponents of the project didn’t learn a critical lesson from the previous two failed campaigns: quite simply, they needed to do a better job of explaining why the proposal was important and why everyone should care.
The website for the project was solid and informative, and there were more signs and advertisements promoting it this time around, but the campaign lacked a go-to cheerleader for the cause. The effort needed a point person who could answer questions and counter the criticism.
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Kennewick voters needed to be compelled to approve the proposed two-tenths of a percent increase to sales tax in the city.
In the end, the campaign struck out three times in that regard. We implored the group, as did others, to work on their marketing campaign. We know the project is needed for our community. But the third try was not the charm. In fact, Kennewick voters came closest to approving the measure in 2016, when it missed the approval mark by just under 300 votes.
Organizers seemed to think they were so close with the 2016 vote that they just needed to add a little something to the project to push it over the top this year.
They hung their hats on a new youth ice rink, thinking the folks involved in that sport would turn out the votes they needed. But the plan did not succeed, and the measure failed by decidedly more votes in November than it had the previous year.
So now what? Organizers say they will not bring the plan, which would have added 110,000 square feet to the convention center, created a new performing arts center and made improvements to the Toyota Center, back to the voters any time soon.
They expected to be embarking on the $45 million project now. Instead, they are left with the aging and inadequate facilities and no solutions as to how to move forward.
They had no Plan B.
Other communities with less robust economies than the Tri-Cities have convinced voters of the importance of projects such as The Link. Just look to our neighbors in Spokane, where in recent years voters approved a sales tax initiative for a $50 million expansion of the convention center, as well as a $64 million bond for the redevelopment of Riverfront Park.
The Link campaign needed a spokesperson that could sell the project to voters.
They needed tangible reasons for folks who may not use the facilities to approve a sales tax increase. And they needed to explain that a sales tax increase is borne by anyone who shops in Kennewick and pays sales tax, not by those who own property there. It is a distinct difference and a method for users of the facilities and visitors to the area to help pay for the project.
A key example: After the measure failed, we learned that the Western Hockey League, the governing body of the Tri-City Americans, has requirements that must be in place at the facility by the start of the 2019 season.
If those improvements aren’t made, the team can’t continue to play here. Read between the lines. The demands of the WHL and the consequences a failed Link proposal might have on the team weren’t even a talking point of the campaign. They sure should have been.
We have a 30-year-old facility in the Toyota Center and a city budget that barely puts a dent in the maintenance needed, let alone improvements to bring it to current standards.
When asked after the measure failed, the manager of the campus said he didn’t want “to push the alarm bell” about the Americans.
An alarm bell is just what the campaign needed. He also said he thought the group had a project that the people wanted, but the vote showed they didn’t.
It was a project the people would have wanted had they been better informed by the campaign. Now the Tri-Cities will suffer in a multitude of ways, from lost convention business, a lack of quality performing arts space and the potential to lose our hockey team. Our community deserves better.