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Wenatchee arena default could create hurdle for regional facilities in Tri-Cities

The recent default on Wenatchee's $42 million Town Toyota Center could pose a new hurdle for building any multimillion-dollar regional public facilities in the Tri-Cities.

The Wenatchee implosion of its financing for the 3-year-old, 4,300-seat center has some state officials thinking all future municipal projects requiring bonds for financing should go through an independent review coordinated by the state Department of Commerce.

Marie Mosley, Kennewick city manager, said the purpose is to ensure a municipal project is viable and has sufficient financial backing to avoid a repeat of the Wenatchee scenario.

As proposed, about 2,400 local and county entities, including public facilities districts, would be scrutinized for their financial viability and vulnerabilities, Mosley said at Monday's budget and administrative committee meeting.

The state would coordinate the reviews through Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. The organization is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization founded to provide professional consultation to city and county governments.

The timing couldn't be more awkward for a regional project in the Tri-Cities.

Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said what happened to Wenatchee may make it more difficult to sell a regional facility project to voters at this time.

"Now may not be the best time to present something to the public for a vote," Young said at the council's committee meeting.

Young and councilman Don Britain are Kennewick's representatives on the Regional Public Facilities District Board, whose members also come from the city councils of Pasco and Richland and the public facilities district boards of all three cities.

Britain has been pushing to get decisions made as soon as possible so the financing proposal can go to voters before the end of 2012.

The regional board is considering one of four possible regional projects, hoping voters will approve a 0.02 percent sales tax increase for all three cities that is needed to pay for construction bonds for whatever project is selected.

The four proposals, each valued at $10 million or more, are: building an exhibit hall on the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick; contributing at least $10 million toward building a $40 million Hanford Reach Interpretative Center at Columbia Park in Richland; constructing a $35 million performing arts center at a location yet to be chosen; and constructing a $37.5 million aquatic center at a location not yet identified.

Matt Watkins, president of the Regional Public Facilities District Board, is scheduled to speak to the Kennewick City Council at today's 6:30 p.m. workshop about the possibility of having a sponsor for a project that would be built, in the event the regional facility can't break even on its operation and debt costs.

That's is exactly what happened with Wenatchee's Town Toyota Center when its expected revenues fell far short of meeting expenses, including what was needed to pay the bonds.

Watkins, who could not be reached for comment Monday evening, also is expected to talk tonight with Kennewick officials about whether voter-approved sales tax revenue should pay for capital and operations or capital only.

The regional public facilities board is scheduled to have its monthly meeting at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday at Richland City Hall.

-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com

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