Convention Center Upgrade Is Essential
Spokane’s Arena wasn’t built in a day. It took a decade of advocacy, legislation, setbacks, revisions and several public votes before civic leaders devised a funding plan that met with public approval.
The proposed addition to Spokane’s convention center won’t be built in a day, either. But it ought to be built. The visitor’s trade has grown into a big asset, injecting dollars from outside the area and strengthening many local businesses.
Conventions consider Spokane an attractive destination, thanks to Riverfront Park and a good supply of affordable lodging. But the Opera House-Trade Center complex is a bit small for many gatherings. Other cities are expanding facilities and Spokane must do likewise to stay in the running.
A feasibility study completed for the city last fall made the case for tripling the facility’s size. The new space would be in a $70 million building south of the Opera House, on the site of current parking lots. Like the existing facilities, it could generate enough operating revenue to be self-supporting.
It also could boost our economy by $30 million in additional visitor spending - enough to fatten state, city and county tax revenues and support 800 new jobs.
The hard part is finding $70 million to pay for construction. Noting the Legislature’s willingness to help fund sport stadiums in already-booming Seattle, Spokane civic leaders thought it reasonable to ask legislators to help an area more in need of stimulation. They teamed with similar projects in Vancouver and Tacoma to broaden the economic benefits. They asked if two-tenths of a cent of the sales tax rate that residents of these cities now send to the state treasury could instead be diverted to the local improvement projects.
No, said legislative leaders.
Spokane Sen. Jim West noted that advocates for Seattle’s stadiums repeatedly revised their requests, offering significant sums of local dollars to match the state’s help. That was easier for Seattle to do, given its stupendous tax base and mounds of private capital.
But, the determined Spokane advocates are going back to the drawing board. They do have some options:
The tax on hotel-motel room rates, the most common means nationally to fund convention facilities, could be raised. This draws the financing from the facility’s users.
Local sales or property taxes could be raised, although the burden on local residents would create political opposition.
The Public Facilities District, which successfully funded the Arena with room and sales taxes, could expand its mission to include the convention center.
By packaging the convention center with improvements to the fairgrounds, Mirabeau Point and neighborhood community centers, a proposal might win broader support.
Assembling a plan will take time and innovation. The goal - strengthening our economy - makes the effort worthwhile.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board