The Tri-City Americans won’t have to leave town thanks to a rescue effort cobbled together by Kennewick officials and the Western Hockey League, and for that we are grateful and relieved.
The loss of the Toyota Center’s anchor tenant would have been devastating – and not only to hockey fans. Such a loss probably would have put the future of the valuable community asset in jeopardy.
Last fall Tri-Citians were caught off guard when the WHL – the governing body of the Tri-City Americans – announced it required improvements to the city-owned venue by the start of the 2019 season.
The 30-year-old facility no longer meets league standards, WHL Commissioner Ron Robinson said, and if upgrades couldn’t be made then the team couldn’t continue to play here.
The announcement came shortly after Kennewick voters defeated a sales tax request that would have expanded and modernized the Three Rivers Convention complex, which includes the Toyota Center.
No one told voters during the campaign there was a chance the Tri-City Americans would leave the area if the measure failed. We wonder if that information might have made a difference in the election.
But now that’s neither here nor there.
What is important is that Kennewick city officials rallied, and have worked out an agreement with the WHL and Toyota Center managers to save our hockey team.
Instead of completing all the upgrades at once, the city will undertake priorities as its limited budget allows. Right now the plan is to spend at least $350,000 annually on the venue, with the money coming from hotel-motel taxes and the city’s capital projects budget.
New lighting, a video replay board and a new ice plant are some of the first improvements planned.
Ironically, while Kennewick is doing what it can for the Toyota Center, the Tacoma City Council is spending $30 million to renovate the 35-year-old Tacoma Dome.
Tacoma officials note the return on investment is one of the reasons they want to modernize the city landmark. In 2017, the Dome hosted 18 concerts and brought the city $2.7 million in revenue, according to The News Tribune. After the renovation, even more concerts and events can be scheduled.
The Tri-Cities is not Tacoma, but our combined population is soaring and is expected to reach 300,000 in the coming year. When the Toyota Center was built in 1988, our population was about half that.
Our community needs this facility.
Just think of the thousands of families who spent time this weekend watching graduation ceremonies there. Where would they go without a venue that has a capacity to seat 6,000?
Some high schools around the state limit the number of guests students invite to graduation because there is no place large enough to hold everyone.
This year, even an out-of-state high school is using the venue. Hermiston High School officials in Oregon decided to make the half-hour trip out of their own city to hold graduation at the coliseum because it could no longer fit everyone in the gym who wanted to attend.
Again, we are thankful Kennewick officials were able to figure out a way to upgrade the Toyota Center. But while the improvement plan may be good enough for WHL standards, it would be great if we could go beyond a piecemeal approach.
One of these days, the community needs to figure out a better way.