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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Convention center, arena projects need our support

The Public Facilities District will improve concessions capacity at the INB Performing Arts Center this year. Workers will also completely replace the lighting in the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

Those are small projects that can be funded out of the district’s impressive $21.8 million in reserves. But two proposed expansion projects will require more money, and for that the district will need help from the Washington Legislature, Spokane County and county voters.

The district wants to add 750 seats to the arena, which has hosted several international and national sporting events since its completion in 1995. The additional seating will help the facility continue attracting events like NCAA basketball and volleyball.

At the Spokane Convention Center, plans call for the addition of 90,000 square feet of meeting space that had been included in plans for the 2006 expansion. The Group Health Exhibit Hall was completed, but construction costs squeezed out meeting rooms. Convention groups want that space.

The new seating and the convention center expansion are expected to cost about $65 million.

The district and Spokane County commissioners are also discussing $2.8 million in improvements at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. In return, the district would get a pledge of the county’s property tax authority, which would lower borrowing costs, and allow the district to put more borrowed money to work. The district carries that big reserve in part because it must self-insure its bonds. That would not be necessary if the bonds have county backing, as those of every other public facilities district in Washington do.

From the voters, the district needs permission to continue doing what it does now, and can do until 2033: Collect a one-tenth of a cent sales tax and a 2 percent room tax. Stretching the expiration date for those taxes out to 2043 provides more room for long-term debt. The 10-year extension would go on the ballot April 17, a date set by the state.

The district needs the same kind of reprieve from the Legislature. The state rebates one-third of a cent in state sales tax to public facilities districts. Without an extension, the rebate would end in 2027.

The rebate amounts to about 10 percent of project funding, but it may be the hardest to get.

The Greater Spokane Incorporated delegation to Olympia last week found legislators hard of hearing when the subject was taxes, even taxes already in place. With a $1.5 billion budget gap to close, there was little sympathy for anyone else’s financial issues.

We hope they come around. It would be a shame to jeopardize projects that could add 350 to 400 much-needed construction jobs as soon as next year, and more service jobs, because the rebate was not extended to accommodate long-term financing.

No one will be paying more taxes.

In the meantime, the district must build a case for the arena and convention center projects it can sell to voters. Officials can start with the admirable job they have done managing what they have. The arena, INB and convention center are community centerpieces that must be kept vital and comparable to those in other cities competing for big events.

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