March 31, 2012 in Opinion

Guest opinion: Vote yes to keep events coming

Mick Mcdowell
 

Every year Inland Northwest residents get to see a remarkable level of world-class athletic, artistic and intellectual talent. Olympic figure skaters, legendary performers such as Elton John, top Broadway stars and major national convention-goers rave about the enthusiastic local support they receive while visiting Spokane. They also list the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, the INB Performing Arts Center and the Spokane Convention Center as among the finer facilities in which they perform and compete.

These gifted people work extremely hard to prepare for and maintain their high levels of performance. As chairman of the Spokane Public Facilities District I know that our dedicated PFD staff and all of our service contractors work hard to ensure that our venues remain first class, keeping us competitive with other cities. I also know the many Spokane County residents who earn their livings from the events held annually in the Arena, INB and Convention Center do as well.

Here’s why. A recent study by Eastern Washington University’s Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis finds that the district supports 2,200 jobs in our community. The study also shows the PFD has a $173 million annual regional economic impact. But we know that we must improve our facilities and increase our existing high level of customer service to remain successful. Our long-term plan entitled Vision 20/20 shows that convention centers must grow to remain viable, that facilities improvements should be phased in and that our Convention Center is not as competitive as it should be. We are now at the point where it is time to aggressively move forward to meet our goals.

On April 17, Spokane County voters will consider taking the necessary steps to ensure that we remain a strong economic engine and continue to provide thousands of jobs for our citizens. Measure 1 extends an existing one-tenth of a cent sales tax and a 2 percent hotel/motel tax to provide an estimated $65 million that will be used to undertake three important and necessary improvement projects: completing the Spokane Convention Center exhibit hall’s original design, adding 750 seats to the Arena, and improving the Spokane River shoreline and the Centennial Trail adjacent to the Convention Center.

The district is asking voters to decide whether to extend the existing the sales and hotel/motel taxes until 2043. Approving Measure 1 will not raise taxes; rejecting it will not lower taxes until 2034.

The Convention Center’s original plans called for a much larger building when construction began in 2004. But dramatic and unforeseen building cost increases forced us to construct a smaller venue. The Convention Center is successful but studies show that we lose almost $72 million in business annually to similar-size cities because our building is too small and not laid out as well as it should be. Convention Center user groups, tourism experts and stakeholders also tell us that completing the original design is necessary to address their critical needs and keep up with current industry trends.

The Arena faces a similar challenge. Spokane frequently hosts sold-out events that include regional rounds of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. But we have been told that more seats must be available if the Arena hopes to continue being a viable venue. Adding 750 seats will meet the NCAA’s requirement of a minimum 12,000 sellable seats. Failing to do so means this highly visible and lucrative event would go elsewhere.

The Spokane River shoreline and Centennial Trail adjacent to the Convention Center will also get a major facelift that includes better access, enhanced bicycle and pedestrian amenities and restoration of native shoreline plants.

We know that all of our facilities are in downtown Spokane but they benefit the entire region. These critical improvements will create an estimated 800 badly needed new jobs in construction and other related industries. We are also confident that we will be able to capture a significant amount of the convention business we currently lose – and the jobs that go with them – once the projects are completed.

The PFD is a significant economic engine for all of Spokane County. Our goal is to stay competitive, continue to create new jobs and brighten our collective future.

Mick McDowell chairs the Spokane Public Facilities District board of directors.


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