A day after a public hearing on a proposed publicly funded convention center, the Board of Thurston County Commissioners pulled the plug on the idea for 2017, unanimously agreeing not to place the issue on November’s election ballot.
The commission, though, did leave open the possibility of a ballot measure in 2018.
“Thurston County needs an event center,” Commissioner Bud Blake said in a statement. “But based on feedback from citizens, we would like to continue the conversation with other jurisdictions and community partners.”
After the commission proposed the “cultural arts, stadium and convention district” in June, it quickly ran into headwinds.
On Tuesday, during an hourlong public hearing before the commission, about 10 of 15 people also spoke against it.
Former Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs said cities throughout the country have pursued public convention centers, seemingly because others have done so, and at great public expense.
“Our lack of a public convention center in Thurston County is something we should all be proud of,” he told the commission. “It proclaims to the world that we are not lemmings.”
Before the hearing, Blake explained how the commission had decided to pursue the creation of a “cultural arts, stadium and convention district,” with the objective of bringing a convention center to the area.
After the relatively new commission of Blake, John Hutchings and Gary Edwards took office in January, Blake said a number of their constituents inquired about a convention center. Finally, they decided it was an idea worth pursuing, Blake said.
The commission notified the county’s jurisdictions that if they wanted to opt out of the proposal, they would have to do so by resolution before the public hearing, which was set for Tuesday.
Tenino and Bucoda would have remained in the district because they had not contacted the county, County Manager Ramiro Chavez said.
If voters were to approve the district in 2018, the following happens: A governing body is formed and the group submits a convention center plan to the state. If the state approves it, they can pursue funding in the form of general obligation bonds, a tax levy of up to 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, or work out a public-private arrangement. The bonds and levy would require voter approval.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Jon Pettit of Olympia accused the commission of not listening to the people after several cities and others expressed opposition to the plan.
“Shut it down, end it tonight, get it over with,” he said about the proposal.
Rodolfo Mendez said the plan didn’t make sense. A convention center won’t create that many jobs and it leaves the public with maintenance and administrative costs. “It’s not a smart idea,” he said.
Marie Docter of Tumwater pointed out that the area already is home to the Washington Center for the Performing Arts and the Kenneth J. Minneart Center for the Arts.
“This is not something this county needs, nor is it something that our freeway system supports,” Docter said, explaining how difficult her daily commute to Lakewood has become. “We don’t have the freeway system to support a convention center.”
However, representatives of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, Olympia Lacey Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau, and Thurston Economic Development Council offered their support, if the proposal moves forward.
Washington Center for Performing Arts Executive Director Jill Barnes said she didn’t support the current plan, but does want to be part of the ongoing discussion.