The notion of a taxpayer-supported convention center in Thurston County has long had appeal in some circles of our community.
A meeting place large enough to house major events might make South Sound more of a destination that draws new visitors and boosts local commerce.
The Fates have never smiled on the idea — either in years past or lately. In recent weeks the county’s four largest cities asked to opt out of participating in a regional convention center district.
No wonder. Commissioners lack data showing the community can support such a facility, or that one would pencil out for taxpayers. If created, the district could impose a modest new property tax of up to 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation within the new district.
County Commission chairman Bud Blake says South Sound has been growing since the idea was last considered, so there might be a way to do it now. The idea has support from the county Economic Development Council, the visitor and convention bureau and Thurston Chamber, Blake says.
The turning point may be Tuesday (July 25). That is when commissioners Blake, John Hutchings and Gary Edwards are convening a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. in the commissioner chambers at the Thurston County Courthouse to hear what the public thinks of the idea.
Blake said commissioners plan to discuss their options in the day or two after the public hearing. If there is support, commissioners could create a convention center district with its own governing board that hires a consultant to study and pencil out the possibilities.
But it may be better if the commission takes what it hears and goes back to the drawing board. The cities of Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and Yelm, which declined to participate at this point, had too little warning that this proposal was coming or that commissioners might seek a ballot measure.
Unfortunately commissioners didn’t first seek a preliminary economic study — or ask cities to help on that step. That study might show there is a market for a local convention center.
A study could also take into account a rival concept that the Nisqually Tribe has been discussing with the city of Lacey. The tribe bought a stake in land in the northeast corner of the city and could construct an entertainment, casino and convention center there.
Meanwhile, it’s important the three commissioners do not forget they have other construction projects to consider.
The County Courthouse buildings on a west Olympia site are deteriorating, and replacement in a new location is expected to cost $150 million to $200 million — even more to rebuild on the same site. There are legitimate safety concerns at both the Superior Court and District Court buildings.
That’s a lot for commissioners and the public to think about.