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Kennewick leaders to discuss Vista Field, Three Rivers Entertainment District

Kennewick policymakers plan to meet next month to hash out how to combine planning efforts for the redevelopment of Vista Field and the expansion of the Three Rivers Entertainment District.

The Kennewick City Council, Port of Kennewick commission and Kennewick Public Facilities District board will meet at 6 p.m. April 7, Kennewick Mayor Steve Young told the city council Tuesday.

The joint workshop will allow officials to discuss competing visions for the two projects. The port commission earlier had invited the city council to publicly meet about Vista Field.

The port owns Vista Field and is working with the community and consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. on redevelopment plans for the former airport.

The public facilities district plans to expand the Three Rivers Convention Center, which it owns, and connect it to the city-owned Toyota Center, which it manages for the city. The city council has a say in convention center expansion plans because the public facilities district needs city permission to take on any more debt.

The port had asked the public facilities district to consider an alleyway for vehicles and pedestrians between the convention center and Toyota Center to help Vista Field build off activity at the two venues.

But the alleyway also is where the public facilities district wants to put a building. The district is working on a concept that would add multipurpose and concessions space. The multipurpose exhibit hall also is being considered as a potential performing arts venue.

A standalone performing arts center also has been pitched as a possible catalyst project to start off Vista Field.

Councilman Greg Jones said he thinks leaders need to be more thoughtful about what they say in public. Divisiveness and finger pointing makes taxpayers and the community think leaders can’t work together and compromise.

Vista Field and the convention center expansion are important projects for the community that can successfully coexist, Jones said.

Barbara Johnson, public facilities district board president, said the district does support Vista Field redevelopment and plans to work with partner agencies to solve complex issues to the benefit of the entire community.

Port Commission President Don Barnes said he would like an approach that considers what the public has asked for, the advice the port has received from top-notch professionals and collaboration with the city and public facilities district.

“I think we are at a critical juncture, and it may take some time to resolve these issues,” Barnes said during the port’s meeting Tuesday.

The public facilities district is working on plans to expand the convention center so it doesn’t lose business.

Corey Pearson, Three Rivers Campus executive director, told the city council that the convention center is at risk of losing the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers annual conference, one of the convention center’s largest conventions.

The Tri-Cities competes with Boise, Portland and Spokane, which is particularly aggressive after its recent convention center expansion, he said.

The convention center celebrated its 10-year anniversary last year. Pearson said public facilities district officials are proud that they have been able to add more than $64,000 to the convention center’s reserves since 2004, reaching $2.4 million.

SpringHill Suites by Marriott will open April 15 and that will help the Three Rivers Campus increase business, Johnson said.

“It’s going to be a game changer for the entire campus,” Pearson said.

The Three Rivers Campus’ economic impact was about $25 million last year, according to city documents. That includes spending at local hotels, restaurants, shops, gas stations and other businesses from visitors to the area who came for conventions, trade shows, banquets, concerts, sporting events, meetings and other events.

Last year, total attendance on the Three Rivers Campus was 530,000, with almost 309,000 of those people using the Toyota Center, according to city documents.

Pearson said the Three Rivers Campus has seen a dip in use similar to what others in the industry are seeing.

The Toyota Center’s income was $2.7 million last year, resulting in a $479,000 operating loss, Pearson said.

Generally, the city anticipates contributing about $350,000 to the operations of the Toyota Center and Arena, said Dan Legard, city finance manager. Of that, $150,000 comes from lodging tax, and another $150,000 to $200,000 comes from admission tax the city receives from coliseum events.

The city has spent an average of $80,000 a year from the general fund to support operations from 2010 to 2014, he said.

For example, in 2012, the Toyota Center contributed about $54,000 to the city’s general fund. Last year, the Toyota Center cost the city’s general fund about $173,000.

Pearson said it does appear activity at the Toyota Center is recovering. The public facilities district had the best January ever for the Toyota Center and convention center this year.

The new contract negotiated with VenuWorks last year allows the management company to take more risks to entice shows to the Toyota Center, he said.

“We are doing a lot of things to help bring more business,” he said.

Adding events is the way to increase revenue, Pearson said. There is only so much that can be cut from expenses.

Keeping the Toyota Center running remains a challenge, Pearson said.

The city inherited a lot of problems when it took over the Toyota Center, Johnson said. Previous owners did not do preventative maintenance, which is causing issues now.

Repairs have to be prioritized because funds are limited, she said. Safety comes first and then guest experiences and tenant needs.

Bob Tory, longtime Americans general manager and co-owner, has questioned the idea of connecting the convention center to the Toyota Center when the 27-year-old facility is in desperate need of capital improvements. He wants more community discussion on building a replacement coliseum.