Nearly a year after Kennewick voters last rejected a sales tax increase to expand the Three Rivers Convention Center complex, supporters are making plans for a third try.
Emboldened by the relatively narrow margin of defeat, the Kennewick Public Facilities District board will consider asking voters to approve the project it calls “The Link” when it meets this month.
Voters rejected earlier versions in 2013 and again in 2016, when it fell 292 votes short of a simple majority.
“We felt like we were so close,” said Barbara Johnson, the board’s chairwoman.
The board asked a subcommittee to study the plan and recommend what it put before voters. Link supporters signaled their revived interest by updating the campaign profile photo on its Facebook page in late June.
The proposal could appear on the Nov. 7 ballot this year or on the April or August 2018 ballot, said Corey Pearson, executive director for the facilities district and the Three Rivers campus.
The board’s next regular meeting is at 5 p.m. July 27 at the Three Rivers Convention Center. It could discuss the plan then, or hold a separate session to review it in depth. It is up to the district’s board to put the measure before voters, but the Kennewick City Council must concur with its decision.
Mayor Steve Young said the seven-member elected City Council would like to see voters get another chance to invest in the convention center. Without endorsing the plan, he said city officials fear Three Rivers will lose convention and meeting business to other communities without an expansion and new amenities.
That said, Young challenged the public facilities district to better educate the public about the request. Many voters were confused about the nature of the tax, many confusing it with the property tax, when it was included in the August 2016 primary.
The new proposal will probably echo the 2016 version, but with the notable addition of a new ice rink.
As Franklin County contemplates closing its aging and unprofitable ice rink at TRAC in Pasco, the Tri-Cities Amateur Hockey Association is pushing Kennewick to add another ice rink at Three Rivers to keep up with growing demand for ice time.
Backers believe the $5 million ice rink could be added to The Link package without added cost by shifting the construction schedule and adjusting reserves required for the overall project.
Johnson, the chair, said the board is evaluating if an ice rink will pencil out. If it does, she said support from fans of youth hockey could help when ballots are counted.
The 2016 package included the addition of 50,000 square feet to the convention center and 30,000 square feet to the Toyota Center. The project takes its name from its key feature, a 2,300-seat “Broadway-style” theater linking the two existing buildings. The package carries a $35 million price tag.
The Link is distinct from the proposed Vista Arts Center, an 800-seat theater complex envisioned for nearby Vista Field by the nonprofit Arts Center Task Force..
Under Washington law, public facilities districts are authorized to ask voters to authorize a sales tax increase of up to 0.2 percent, or two cents on a $10 purchase. If approved, the tax applies to most retail sales and services within the jurisdiction. For the Kennewick district, that’s the city of Kennewick. Some transactions, chiefly sales to Oregonians with proof of residence, are exempt.
It would generate about $3.5 million per year. The money would be used to repay bonds issued to pay for the project up front. The 2016 version included a provision to end collections after 20 years. That provision would likely remain in any new package.
The Washington Legislature authorized cities, towns, metro areas and counties to form public facilities districts to promote economic development by giving them a revenue source to finance, design, construct, remodel, maintain or operate public facilities.
Kennewick established its district in December 2000. Richland and Pasco both have districts and a separate regional district covers all three cities.
Local voters have not been friendly to the concept.
A 2013 ballot measure advanced by the regional facilities district for an aquatics center in Pasco failed despite wide support in Pasco itself. Pasco considered moving ahead with the idea, but the concept lost steam this spring when the Legislature failed to act on a bill that would have helped clarify roles and responsibilities.
Kennewick voters, of course, rejected the convention center expansion twice. With 11,845 votes cast last summer, The Link needed 5,923 “yes” votes to pass. It fell 292 votes short, failing by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.54 percent.
Richland’s public facilities district is focused on The Reach interpretive center and has not pitched a sales tax to its voters.