Richland council considers creating public corp.

RICHLAND — The latest acronym to have local city officials buzzing is "PDA," but it doesn't mean personal digital assistant -- those things people used before smart phones -- or public display of affection.

In municipal lingo, PDA stands for public development authority, and it's a tool that lets cities build or develop projects without exposing the city to lawsuits.

The Richland City Council on Tuesday became the second council in the Tri-Cities this week to discuss creating a public development authority, which are more common on the west side of the state.

There are about 20 in the state, including eight in Seattle, said Gary Ballew, Richland's business and economic development manager.

The Pasco City Council on Monday talked about creating one that could replace the Pasco Downtown Development Association in taking the lead on revitalizing the city's downtown.

In Richland, officials are considering creating a public development authority -- which is like the public version of a limited liability corporation -- to help Washington State University build a wine science center for the Viticulture & Enology program at the Tri-Cities campus in north Richland.

Ballew said a development authority makes sense for this project because it would be dedicated to getting the center built, and would dissolve once the project is done.

Ballew said Richland's would have start-up costs of about $10,000.

City staff would conduct the initial work until financing sources were identified for the building, and then a board appointed by the city council would take over.

"There's a difference in approaches," Ballew said, comparing the two cities' proposals. "We're saying we'll keep it in-house and close to the chest."

Ballew said the primary reason the city and WSU officials think a public development authority is the right approach for the wine center is that if WSU tries to build on its own, it must go to the state Legislature for money from the capital budget, where it will be competing with dozens of projects from WSU and the state's other public universities.

A public development authority could apply for grants from the state and federal government, but it can't levy any taxes, Ballew said.

It can, however, issue bonds to pay for construction once it has steady income -- from a lease agreement with WSU to occupy the space, for example -- to pay the debt.

Consensus among the council at Tuesday's workshop was to move forward with creating the authority. The first step is to have a charter and bylaws drafted.

The council will take a formal vote on creating the authority at a future meeting.