Who’s that on the kiss cam? Toyota Center upgrades will make the picture much clearer

Kennewick’s Toyota Center will get $4 million in updates.
Kennewick’s Toyota Center will get $4 million in updates.

Toyota Center is getting a pair of 41-foot-wide LED screens and a new ice plant this summer — a $4 million investment designed to bring the aging home of the Tri-City Americans up to Western Hockey League standards.

The ice plant and video boards were key to keeping the Americans as tenants after the WHL set the 2019-20 season as the deadline to comply with its new standards for player safety and fan amenities.

The team’s lease expires in 2020, after the coming season.

Toyota Center is also getting a new ice-making plant. The $3.2 million project will deliver better quality ice for hockey and other skating events. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

With the updates in place, negotiating a new lease should go smoothly this fall, predicted Corey Pearson, manager of the Three Rivers Campus, which includes Toyota Center.

“It will be a much easier (lease) to do for a change,” he said.

Voters opposed sales tax bump

The team’s future in Kennewick was clouded in 2017, when voters rejected a sales tax request to update and expand the Three Rivers campus, including the Toyota Center.

With the WHL deadline looming, the Americans and the city agreed on a three-year plan to update lighting, replace the ice plant and install video boards.

The city committed money from its capital projects budget and hotel-motel taxes paid by visitors.

The lighting system was updated last summer.

This year, Toyota Center turns its attention to the video boards and ice plant.

For fans, the oversized video boards at either end will be the most visible change.

The LED screens are 8 feet high and 41 feet wide.

They will display closeups, messages, game replays and other action during Americans games and other events at the center, including high school graduations.

The screens cost $242,000 apiece and are long overdue.

“We’ve been behind for so long,” Pearson said.

The city is contracting with Daktronix Inc., based in Brookings, S.D., to install the new technology and supporting systems. The city council approved the $882,000 project earlier this month.

Ice-making plant

Toyota Center is also replacing its aging, potentially dangerous ice-making plant.

The $3.2 million project will deliver better-quality ice and is a critical safety upgrade as well.

The old system was removed this week. It is the same model as the ice-making plant blamed for the 2017 deaths of three workers at Fernie, B.C., Memorial Arena, southwest of Calgary.

The men were in a small mechanical room attempting to repair Fernie’s leaking ice-making gear when ammonia burst from the system. They likely suffocated, authorities said.

Kennewick’s new system puts the machinery outside the building. As part of the project, the arena will shut down for about a month on June 10, giving managers time to take care of maintenance, including painting.

The Tri-City Americans pay $160,000 and other consideration to lease the 7,200-seat Toyota Center (5,797 seats for hockey).

Kennewick is buying the video board system from Daktronics through its membership in the King County Directors Association.

The Seattle-area purchasing cooperative uses the collective bargaining power of its members to negotiate prices with vendors.

The WHL has not published its 2019-20 schedule.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.