April 17, 2012 in City, Idaho

Voters say yes to Convention Center expansion

 

Spokane County voters on Tuesday appeared to approve a ballot measure to expand the Spokane Convention Center and add more seats to the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

Measure 1 had a 56.2 percent yes vote. The count stood at 46,176 yes to 36,014 no following a single computer run just after 8 p.m.

An estimated 10,000 special election ballots turned in on Tuesday or waiting to be delivered by mail will be counted starting today.

The measure approves a 10-year extension of a pair of sales and use taxes to pay for 91,000 square feet of new space in the Spokane Convention Center and two other smaller projects. The total cost is $65 million.

“I think we are on our way to creating more jobs,” said Kevin Twohig, chief executive officer of the Spokane Public Facilities District, an arm of local government that manages the Convention Center and other public facilities.

“I think our message was pretty clear. We are in a competitive environment and we need to remain competitive, at the same time we’ll be able to create a bunch of new jobs.”

Part of the ballot measure would add 750 seats on the west end of the upper bowl of the Arena, making it large enough to qualify for future NCAA men’s basketball tournament play.

Basketball capacity would go to 12,500 seats, which is 500 seats above the minimum.

The Spokane River shoreline and Centennial Trail would also see improvements on the north side of an expanded Convention Center.

Twohig said the next step is to forge an agreement with the city of Spokane and Spokane County to provide additional backing for an expected sale of revenue bonds to raise money for construction. The backing would lower the borrowing cost.

Measure 1 would extend the existing 0.10 sales tax and a 2 percent room tax from 2033 to 2043 to repay the bonds. Those taxes have been paying for construction of existing PFD facilities.

Twohig said he would like to go to the bond market in about two months.

The project has gone through extensive preliminary study and design and could be ready for detailed design work later this year. That would allow construction starting as early as spring 2013.

Twohig said that as many as 400 construction workers could be on the job by 2013. When completed, the expansion may result in 800 more jobs across the local economy in the hospitality industry and real estate.

Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin said he expected turnout of just below 35 percent, which could result in as many as 10,000 more ballots to be counted countywide.

The PFD won voter approval a decade ago to use the 0.10 percent sales tax and a 2 percent room tax to finance construction of the Convention Center.

The same package of taxes has been used to finance the Arena, dating back to the early 1990s. The Arena opened in 1995.

PFD officials and supporters promoted the measure as a completion of the existing convention center, which would keep Spokane competitive in the convention and meeting market.

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