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The Link failure may put Toyota Center future on thin ice

Kennewick voters said no to The Link, a sales tax increase that would have expanded the Three Rivers Convention complex and upgraded the Toyota Center.
Kennewick voters said no to The Link, a sales tax increase that would have expanded the Three Rivers Convention complex and upgraded the Toyota Center. Tri-City Herald

Kennewick voters this week rejected a sales tax to expand the Three Rivers Convention complex and upgrade the Toyota Center.

But they didn’t eliminate the fact both facilities need expensive updates to remain competitive.

The Kennewick Public Facilities District’s request for a two-tenths of a percent sales tax increase failed in Tuesday’s election by nearly 1,500 votes.

That’s five times the margin it lost by just a year ago, according to updated numbers released Wednesday by the Benton County elections department.

An estimated 7,500 ballots remain to be counted countywide, but it appears mathematically impossible for the measure to succeed.

Corey Pearson, manager of the Three Rivers complex, said he was stunned by the thumping voters gave The Link proposition.

The request will not be resubmitted to voters in the near future, he said.

“We thought we had a project people wanted,” Pearson said glumly. “Obviously it’s something that people don’t want.”

link
Kennewick voters three times have said no to The Link, a sales tax increase that would have expanded the Three Rivers Convention complex and upgraded the Toyota Center. Kennewick Public Facilities District

Instead of preparing for the $45 million construction campaign the sales tax would have unleashed, Pearson said he’s scrambling to keep the convention center and coliseum attractive to current users.

“We’ll have to figure out how to chip away,” he said.

If approved, The Link package would have expanded the convention center by 110,000 square feet, added a 2,300-seat performing arts space, added a new ice rink to support youth hockey and overhauled the Toyota Center, home of the Tri-City Americans.

Pearson fears the failure could put its contract with the Western Hockey League team in jeopardy.

I don’t want to push the alarm bell and say the team is going to leave. But teams do move. The good news is they have support here. They have a good base.

Corey Pearson, Three Rivers complex manager

The Americans pay a base rent of $160,000 annually to use the 7,200-seat facility. Additional fees and concession revenue push the value of the relationship much higher.

The Americans lease expires in 2020 but includes terms that let the team negotiate a lower payment or even early termination if the coliseum doesn’t meet league specifications before then.

Pearson said the Toyota Center falls short on lighting, back of house amenities such as locker rooms and it lacks an overhead screen for instant replays and league commercials.

Bob Tory, general manager of the Americans, was traveling and unavailable to talk about the issue on Wednesday. WHL Commissioner Ron Robison also could not be reached.

Tri-City Americans
The Tri-City Americans pay a base rent of $160,000 a year to use Toyota Center in Kennewick. The city’s voters rejected a sales tax increase that would have helped pay for upgrades. File Tri-City Herald

Pearson said there have been many conversations about the situation. The parties were informally waiting for the election. The loss brings the problem into sharp focus.

“I don’t want to push the alarm bell and say the team is going to leave. But teams do move,” Pearson said. “The good news is they have support here. They have a good base.”

The Toyota Center is owned by the city of Kennewick but managed by the Kennewick Public Facilities District and a private contractor, VenuWorks. The facilities district owns the neighboring convention center.

The city budget supports some maintenance and costs associated with the Toyota Center. It was not clear on Wednesday what if any resources the city can devote to fixing the building.

Toyota Center, formerly the Tri-Cities Coliseum, opened in 1988 as a private facility. It has been city-owned since 2000.

A 2005 naming rights deal gave it the Toyota Center name. That deal is worth $260,000 a year.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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