About 100 people, most of whom want an aquatics center built in the Tri-Cities, dominated a meeting of the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District on Wednesday held to hear public suggestions for a regional project.
Support for a performing arts center and for the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center also were heard, with some people suggesting that perhaps two projects could be made into one regional facility.
Randy Willis of Kennewick, who is general manager of the Columbia Basin Racquet Club, said an aquatic center similar to the one in King County that boasts 600,000 visits annually, would have the broadest impact and appeal for the Tri-Cities.
"But I'm not sure there has to be one project over another. Isn't there enough synergy for two things?" Willis said, referring to other people's support for the interpretive center as a regional project.
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"Why can't we put the Reach and aquatic center together?" said Joan Wertz of Richland.
The regional public facilities district board held the public comment session at the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau. Another session is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight at Columbia Basin College's Library Building to hear more suggestions.
Matt Watkins, chairman of the board, noted that public response Wednesday showed the Reach interpretive center needed to be considered along with the aquatics center and performing arts center that were identified as top projects following community meetings held in 2007.
John Dowell of Kennewick said he likes both the Reach project and an aquatics center, but believes if a swim facility is going to be built it should be top notch.
"I say, build world class," he said.
The regional board is soliciting public ideas so it can decide what project to put to voters in the cities of Kennewick, Richland and Pasco in asking for a sales tax increase to pay for it.
Board member John Givens noted that getting the right project that the public will support is one thing, but figuring out how that project can sustain itself is something else.
Steve Young, Kennewick mayor and is vice chairman of the regional board, said it might be a tough sell to voters because the Tri-Cities has had a hard time voting for anything that raises taxes.
"This is going to take the citizens to help us succeed," he said.
Watkins asked that people who came to Wednesday's session not try to dominate tonight's Pasco session.
When asked how quickly a regional project could be brought to voters, Watkins said it isn't realistic to see a ballot measure this year, but maybe in 2012 or 2013. He said the regional board has until 2015 to complete its assignment before the authorization that created it expires.