The Kennewick Public Facilities District received the nod from the Kennewick City Council in February to pursue voter approval of a .2 percent sales tax to fund a $35 million theater and expansion at the Three Rivers Convention Center.
Corey Pearson, executive director of the Three Rivers Campus, has been seeking an expansion of the aging facility since he stepped into his position in 2009. And under his leadership, there have been significant changes and improvements made to the 28-year-old campus, which includes the Toyota Center, the Three Rivers Convention Center and the smaller Toyota Arena.
With naming rights sponsorships from Windermere, Pearson was able to make improvements to the Toyota Center to allow for Broadway productions at the facility.
And there’s now a hotel attached to the Three Rivers Convention Center. Because of the new Springhill Suites, which opened in 2015, Convention Center staff was able to bid on 150 additional events this year.
“These were events we weren’t able to bid on in the past, because we didn’t have that attached hotel,” Pearson said.
Pearson said Three Rivers Convention Center booked three new conventions for 2017 because of the improvements. The American Legion will have a five-day conference in July 2017. The Public School Employee Association will have a conference in August 2017 that is expected to have up to 900 attendees. And The Pacific Northwest District of Kiwanis will host a six-day convention with 500 attendees.
But there are still events, conferences and expos that are out of reach because of the facility’s limited size and scope. On top of that, there is stiff competition in the tourism industry throughout Washington state to capture events.
Seattle, Spokane, Wenatchee — they are all trying to capture the same events to bring more visitors to their areas. Because they all know that means more money for everyone. From the hotels, to restaurants, to gas stations – tourists pump money throughout the region.
But at 38,000 square feet, space at the Three Rivers Convention Center is limited.
“Spokane just added 75,000 square feet,” Pearson said.
And the Washington State Convention Center announced plans last fall to for a $1.4 billion expansion that adds more than 400,000 square feet.
So Pearson has rolled out a plan for “The Link,” a 2,300 seat Broadway-style theater, along with a 50,000 sq. ft. expansion of the convention center and a 30,000-sq.-ft. lobby, which would link Three Rivers Convention Center to the Toyota Center.
The plan would cost about $35 million and would be funded by a .2 percent sales tax in Kennewick. That would add 2 cents for every $10 to purchases made within the district. The sales tax increase would also sunset, or disappear, when the bond debt is paid — so it wouldn’t be permanent.
The theater would have a stage, orchestra pit and traditional, graduated theater seats that are removable, making the space available more flexible and available for conventions and other events.
A new theater would also allow for the center to offer more than one-night runs of the popular Broadway shows, bringing down the cost because they won’t have to rent as much equipment.
The new configuration would also increase the number of handicapped seats available to 10.
“Right now, we only have three,” Pearson said.
The expansion would allow the site to host conventions for up to 2,000 attendees. Currently, the cap is 1,200, Pearson said.
In 2013, the KPFD asked voters for a sales tax increase to fund a $20 million expansion and improvement of the Three Rivers Convention Center, but voters turned it down.
Pearson is hoping this new plan and layout receives a better reception.
“It gives the Convention Center what it needs and the Tri-Cities what it needs,” he said.
Pearson said the KPFD board has not determined when it will place the issue on the ballot.
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