Waterparks promise fun, but only when it's hot

By the Herald editorial staff

When it comes to waterparks in the Tri-Cities, it's either drought or deluge.

A few months ago, no waterparks appeared on the horizon. Now, suddenly, two are planned -- one in Pasco and one in Kennewick. And two days ago, Benton City renewed its quest for one as well.

We don't know what the Tri-Cities' saturation point is when it comes to aquatic centers. Is one enough? Is two too many? Is three over the top?

The market will answer these questions in due time, or it will if these parks are actually built.

But even if all the announced plans are realized, a more pressing query remains: Can private enterprise meet the Tri-Cities' aquatic needs?

One thing all the proposed waterparks have in common is they are seasonal. They are designed for summer fun in the hot Eastern Washington sun. And that's a great idea.Tri-Citians want a waterpark. Many of them travel to Pendleton, Hermiston and Moses Lake during the summer to play in the water.

On the other hand, one of the Tri-Cities' unmet needs is a year-round public pool. Several private health clubs have pools, but you have to buy a membership to swim.

For everyone else, the opportunity to swim ends with the last days of summer.

And of the pools that do exist, none is big enough to play host to a full-fledged swimming meet. (That should be read as the kind of a swimming meet that brings in hungry and road-weary visitors who need to be fed and sheltered.)

An indoor pool seems to be a missing component both in our efforts to increase tourism, and more importantly, the well-being and recreation of Tri-City residents.

The city of Pasco has put forth, from time to time, an effort to build an aquatics center that would incorporate slides and rides with an Olympic-sized competition pool. But despite citizen petitions and other efforts, the plan never has taken off.

In the most recent attempt, Pasco voters rejected theproposal for a new pool with a few slides and a lazy river in the west end of town twoyears ago.

Before that, the Regional Aquatic Facility Task Force raised $15,000 in private money to design and study a much more ambitious facility. The group produced a beautiful document, but it's been on the shelf for years.

Former Kennewick Mayor Vic Epperly has long touted a metropolitan parks district that spans the Tri-Cities as a wayto fund a publicly ownedaquatics center. He hasn'tgotten far.

The Regional Facilities Oversight Committee brings together representatives from Pasco, Kennewick and Richland to look at an aquatics center and other projects.

That effort could take off, but not this year.

Legislation that would allow a vote on increasing local sales taxes to pay for regional facilities is working its way through the Legislature.

If it becomes law, the earliest the issue could be put on the ballot would be Jan. 1.

But here's the point -- a lot of people are talking about waterparks.

It's encouraging to see private enterprises taking a run at it. Summers are long and hot in the Tri-Cities. We wish the developers well and look forward to their opening day (or days).

But while these privateparks promise tons of summertime thrills, they won't fill all of the community's aquatic needs.

The biggest gap is the absence of a year-round pool that's open to the general public at rates everyone can afford.

Public swimming will most likely have to come from public funding.