Kennewick voters are being asked to increase the sales tax by two tenths of a percent, or 2 cents on a $10 purchase, to support the first major expansion of the Three Rivers Convention Center since it opened in 2004.
If approved, the new revenue would support the Kennewick Public Facilities District’s proposed $35 million plan to modernize the Three Rivers campus.
It would add 50,000 square feet to the convention center, 30,000 square feet to the Toyota Center and connect the two buildings with a 2,300-seat permanent theater named “The Link.”
The request is on the Aug. 2 primary ballot. Ballots must be returned or postmarked by election day.
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The tax would apply to most taxable purchases in the city of Kennewick, though some out-of-state shoppers are excused from paying sales taxes if they show proper identification.
It would raise about $3.5 million per year, ending in 20 years when project bonds are paid off.
Kennewick voters previously rejected a one-tenth of a percent sales tax in 2013.
Supporters say they’ve listened carefully to voters concerns about the nature and duration of the tax. The convention center will attract out-of-area visitors, but the theater will cater to locals by hosting touring Broadway-style shows to the Tri-Cities.
The complex can host touring productions, but because the Windermere Theater configuration in the arena is only temporary, shows are seldom scheduled for more than a night or two since the arena must be available for sporting events.
Expanding the complex will help the Tri-Cities compete with Yakima and Spokane for lucrative convention business. Three Rivers peaked with 258 events in 2013 and has been trending down ever since, to 201 in 2016.
“We have eight events that have moved to Spokane in the first six months of this year,” Kris Watkins, president and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities, told the Tri-City Herald editorial board.
Johnson Consulting, a Chicago- firm that analyzed the center’s performance, estimates the Three Rivers facility lost the opportunity to host 50,000 visitors worth $14 million in spending because it was unable to book 26 events due to space constraints.
“Operationally, the facility has begun to see a reduction in total events as a result of not having enough Exhibit Hall space,” it said.
The expansion would boost event demand by 50 percent, resulting in more than $106 million in annual spending.
The project would dramatically improve the Toyota Center’s ability to accommodate guests with disabilities. Disabled parking is on the back side of the building and only two concession stands are accessible to people who use wheelchairs.
It would also replace aging equipment, such as the 28-year-old ice plant for the hockey arena and the aging locker room.
If approved, the sales tax in Kennewick would be raised to 8.8 percent. The entire Tri-Cities currently is at 8.6 percent, or 86 cents for a $10 purchase. Spokane’s sales tax rate is 8.9 percent.
In June, the Kennewick City Council noted the shortage of parking at the complex during events and pledged to build up to 1,000 new parking spots on city-owned land if the measure passes.
The measure is being promoted by Go Big Tri-Cities, a nonprofit that incorporated in Washington on June 5 to promote the ballot request.
Kennewick resident Victor Epperly filed a complaint concerning the Go Big campaign with Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission, which monitors and enforces campaign laws in the state. His July 26 complaint questions if Go Big is properly registered with the commission.
Epperly also criticized a truck-mounted billboard encouraged voters to vote “yes,” but apparently did not disclose who paid for it, as required by state law. A sticky note on the July 10 edition of the Tri-City Herald identified Go Big Tri-Cities as the sponsor.
Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the disclosure commission, said the commission has asked the campaign to respond to Epperly’s complaint by Aug. 2.
Speaking generally, she said most campaign materials that encourage voters to take one position or another must include the name and address of the sponsor. Campaigns can be asked to insert the information moving forward.