3 finalists chosen to design expansion of Three Rivers Convention Center

Three architectural firms are finalists in the selection process to design the 46,000 square-foot expansion of the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

The Kennewick Public Facilities District Board learned Thursday that evaluations of seven applicants were narrowed to three. The winner is expected to be announced within a month.

The facilities district board is eager to make a selection for the $15 million project that will allow larger events to be held at the convention center near the Columbia Center mall in Kennewick.

The board decided to have member Calvin Dudney and Corey Pearson, executive director of the convention center, negotiate with their top choice, and then recommend to the full board.

Pearson said he wants to move as quickly as possible, with negotiations starting next week.

Facilities district board member John Givens said he wants to see what each architectural company is willing to provide in the design and features.

"It's how much we can get for the money involved, not so much negotiating a price," Givens said.

Board chairwoman Barbara Johnson said the selection process is meant to be secretive.

"We don't want the other firms to know who we're negotiating with," Johnson said.

Also Thursday, the board learned that the convention center hotel project, which is being done by Vijay Patel of A-1 Hospitality, a hotel development company based in Kennewick, has secured financing.

Board members want the ex-pansion project and hotel completed as near to the same time as possible because they will complement each other.

Givens also talked about the aquatic center as a regional public facilities project at the county-owned TRAC facility near Road 68 in Pasco.

"What concerns me is the jury is still out on what price will be paid to Franklin County, and we don't know yet where that money will come from," Givens said.

The city of Pasco and the Pasco Public Facilities District board have proposed to take over TRAC transform it into a $35 million aquatic center.

As proposed, the aquatic center would have an indoor water park of 28,000 square feet, an indoor25-meter competition pool and an outdoor water park of 90,000 square feet.

Givens said negotiations between Franklin County, which owns TRAC, and Pasco have begun.

On June 27, the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District board voted to make the aquatic center its first choice as a project to present to voters in 2013 asking for a 0.1 percent increase in sales taxes for Richland, Pasco and Kennewick. The money would pay for bonds to build the facility.

"There are a number of substantial hoops to jump through before this can go to the ballot," Givens said.

Givens and Johnson said the aquatic center must offer more than water slides, a wave pool and a lazy river.

"Without a competitive pool, all you have is a glorified water park," Johnson said.

Pearson said special interest groups for agriculture and equestrian activities now held at TRAC have objected to losing TRAC if there is no attempt to replace it with other ag-related facilities.

"There's been a lot of ag-related push back from the Franklin County Cattlemen's Association," Pearson said.

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