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Kennewick begins spending to expand convention center at undetermined cost

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(The Center Square) – Kennewick’s 81,000-square-foot convention center is set to more than double in size over the next two years despite voters already rejecting two tax proposals to pay for the project.

The decision to proceed with the massive expansion came last week as the city council approved an $8 million internal loan to the Kennewick Public Facilities District, which manages the Three Rivers Convention Center.

The funding will allow the PFD to determine the project’s maximum cost and perform any early site preparation as developers prepare to break ground in December. The expansion includes a 60,000-square-foot addition to the exhibit space and a 70,000-square-foot expansion to meeting rooms, the lobby and other support spaces, according to TRCC’s website.

“This will be a game changer for the community and will benefit our hotels, restaurants, and retailers,” said Corey Pearson, executive director of the Three Rivers Convention Center, in a news release.

Previously, voters rejected two sales tax proposals that would have supported bonds for prior iterations of the project; however, the PFD has since noted that it would not enact any new taxes to fund the expansion.

According to PFD’s Project Application, the City of Kennewick allocated $21 million in one-time funds toward the project and earmarked additional funding through its completion. The January estimates put the total cost upward of $70 million.

The massive expansion will culminate in a “public-private partnership” with the PFD, Kennewick and A1 Pearl Development Group. According to its website, Three Rivers Convention Center expects the project to attract nearly 200,000 visitors and over 70,000 hotel reservations annually.

The potential impact could generate $130.8 million in total spending, $26.4 million in wages and $6.9 million in sales and lodging tax revenues, according to the convention center’s website. However, despite the city council approving the FSD’s loan, no permits have been issued for the project.

According to the Tri-City Herald, A1 Pearl Development Group and ALSC Architects, which initially built the TRCC for $18 million in 2004, met with city officials last week for a pre-application conference.

A1 Pearl Development Group entered a Purchase and Sale agreement with the city in 2019, and Kennewick agreed to expand the convention center as a condition.

According to the PFD’s Project Application, the goal was that the developer would build and front the cost of a hotel to attract more visitors while the city would fund and expand the convention center to attract more conventions that it was losing to cities in Oregon and Idaho.

When ALSC built the convention center 20 years ago, Kennewick’s population was approximately 64,000; now, it’s around 90,000, creating a greater demand for event space.

Once completed, the Three Rivers Convention Center will have received a 130,000-square-foot expansion, and A1 Pearl Development Group will have built a six-story Marriott hotel complete with an upscale steak restaurant and rooftop patio bar.

A1 Pearl Development Group also proposed building three towers next to the convention center, which could include 800 condominiums and several restaurants and other businesses. However, the project lost traction during the pandemic, so it’s unclear when it will proceed, according to the Tri-City Herald.

Three Rivers Convention Center hopes to open the doors to its expansion by summer 2026.

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