Guest Opinions

Guest Column: This is why we need to support public facilities

Three Rivers Convention Center
Three Rivers Convention Center Courtesy of Visti Tri-Cities

“If it made sense, the private sector would build it.” This is a common misconception about public facilities in our community. So, why do cities and counties build public facilities like convention centers, museums and aquatic parks?

Public facilities foster private investment. They anchor a community. When a community invests in public facilities, you will find hotels being built near them, capitalizing on the facility’s ability to attract overnight visitors.

When hotels are built, gas stations, restaurants and retail businesses open to capitalize on visitor spending. When you have these amenities in place, residential neighborhoods will often spring up, as people want to live near these businesses. When housing crops up, grocery and other services are attracted to the volume of patrons and their spending habits.

This chain of events provides jobs in our community and a high quality of life for all residents to enjoy. Look at the development around Road 68 in the last 25 years. Without a public facility as an anchor, do you think all of that residential and commercial development would have happened so quickly?

One of the drivers to our local economy is visitors staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, purchasing from our retail stores, pumping gas, and buying groceries.

Public facilities help drive visitor spending, which reached over $560 million in our region this past year. These dollars help small businesses thrive while attracting new companies to our region.

Visitor spending generated $57 million in local and state sales tax revenue. This tax revenue helps lower residents’ tax burden and provides funding for police and fire services, schools and teachers’ salaries, the beautification of our parks, maintenance of our roads and so much more. Visitor spending also supports over 6,300 jobs in our community.

Let’s talk about two of our public facilities: The Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick and the HAPO Center (formerly TRAC) in Pasco.

In 2018 alone, these two facilities hosted 67 large events, which generated overnight stays and $11 million in visitor spending. This is new money infused into our local economy that wouldn’t have happened without these public facilities.

That’s $11 million that isn’t local dollars changing hands between residents and local businesses, and $11 million that is taxed to make our cities safer and pay for our children’s education.

And how does $11 million in visitor spending from just these two public facilities help the job market? By supporting an estimated 120 jobs outside of these public facilities that are held by our family, friends, and neighbors. These 67 events don’t account for an additional 303 events that are attended by locals that generated millions more in the community.

The economic impact of public facilities is far reaching and positively affects every single resident of the Tri-Cities, often in ways we may not recognize. When you next hear someone asking why taxpayers should fund public facilities, remember that public facilities help build stronger communities, support local businesses, and create local jobs.

Craig Maloney is the Mayor Pro-tem of Pasco and has served on public facility district boards since 2013. Michael Novakovich is the President and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities, a Certified Destination Management Executive and works closely with public facilities in the region.