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Bill Funds State Center Expansion East Side Lawmakers Want Same Deal For Spokane

Spokane’s convention center could ride the coattails of legislation aimed at financing the expansion of the state Convention and Trade Center in Seattle.

But so far, attempts by East Side lawmakers to add Spokane to the bill have failed.

Senate Bill 5943 would fund the expansion of the convention center in Seattle by allowing the center to collect a 2 percent tax on city hotel and motel rooms starting in the year 2000. The tax already is being collected, but the money currently goes to the state.

Diverting the tax money to the Seattle project would generate more than $4 million a year - enough to pay back the $100 million in bonds that would be sold to pay for the construction. Supporters of the project say it would help the whole state by bringing in tourists who spend money and pay sales tax.

Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, offered an amendment to let Spokane do the same, but it was voted down when the House considered the bill last week.

The city would take in more than $700,000 a year if given the same option as Seattle.

Mielke, who chairs the House Republican caucus, said he was distracted by health care issues at the time and wasn’t able to spend enough time convincing others to support the amendment.

“I don’t think it was an antiSpokane thing,” Mielke said.

Mielke said he may get another chance to aid the city if the bill is sent to a conference committee where differences between the House and Senate versions would be ironed out.

“I think it’s important that Spokane has the same options available,” Mielke said.

Spokane’s convention center needs expansion, according to Hartly Kruger, president of the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We’re losing business,” Kruger said. He said the center is booked solid for most of the year and could attract more visitors if it were larger. The center is conducting a study to determine how much new business could be attracted if it expanded.

Tourism is a big money generator for Spokane. Tourists spent nearly $380 million last year, an 80 percent increase over 10 years ago, according to a study by a private consulting firm.

Nearly 6,000 jobs in Spokane County are tourism-related, the study estimated.

Spokane shouldn’t begrudge Seattle’s efforts to get state help for its trade center, said Mike Kobluk, director of entertainment facilities for Spokane.

“Anything that Seattle can do to help the tourism and the conventions that come to the state of Washington will only help us in the long run,” Kobluk said.

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