Heritage Center would fill history void

Secretary of State Sam Reed has his work cut out for him. His job is to persuade state lawmakers — who face a $2.6 billion budget shortfall — to keep the $110 million Washington State Heritage Center building project on track.

The Heritage Center, which is proposed to be constructed at the entrance to the historic west Capitol Campus, would, in Reed’s words, “be a building for everyone.” As designed, it would house state archives, the state library and historical displays that would serve as a starting point for the thousands of tourists and school children who arrive at the Capitol Campus each year eager to learn about Washington history. The Heritage Center would expand its reach statewide as an online resource and programming from the center would be carried by TVW, the state’s public affairs network.

Reed’s quest to keep the Heritage Center project alive is worthy of support. He has several sound arguments in his favor:

 • The budget for the project has been trimmed from $131 million to $110 million with a corresponding shrinking of the footprint from 204,000 square feet to 142,000 square feet.

 • The location has been shifted to the campus entrance from the bluff overlooking Capitol Lake. That will save demolition and parking costs associated with the previous location adjacent to the General Administration Building.

 • All of the money for the project has been identified and the Heritage Center does not compete with other public projects in the state’s two-year construction budget. Money for construction would come from increases in fees paid to file documents at the county courthouse. The Legislature already has approved the new revenue source, so no tax increase is necessary. The state’s construction budget — which Reed describes as the “economic stimulus budget for our state” — is the proper source for the proposed construction project which is expected to generate 1,200 jobs.

 • “There’s no money out of the operating budget,” Reed stresses. The Heritage Center project would not be in competition for dollars against K-12 education, higher education, social services, public safety or other programs paid for from operating revenues. In fact, Reed said, the construction project will generate $6 million in state sales tax. “During the Great Depression and various state recessions,” Reed said, “construction projects, including heritage projects, have helped provide jobs and leave a lasting legacy.”

Reed said, and we agree, that it’s imperative that the Legislature give the Heritage Center project the green light to proceed. “Construction companies are hungry for business right now, but a delay would cause significant cost increases that could endanger the project.”

Reed is not asking for additional revenue or additional taxing authority. He wants two things from lawmakers:

 • Authorization of a certificate of participation, which Reed describes as “a mortgage to be repaid from the dedicated revenue, not general taxes or state-backed bonds.”

 • A firm commitment by the Legislature not to raid the Heritage Center revenue pot that has accumulated funds in a savings account.

Reed’s vision — and one shared by supporters of the Heritage Center project — is to re-create the National Archives Building in the nation’s capital, on a scale and in a manner fitting for Washington state.

“It was my inspiration,” Reed admits. “When you go to the national archives and see the Declaration of Independence and other important documents on display, it’s really impressive, and inspirational. The last time I was there they had a letter to Franklin Roosevelt from a 10-year-old kid in Cuba who had never seen an American 10 dollar bill, and the kid asked Roosevelt to send him one. The letter was signed by Fidel Castro.”

He continued, “All around the National Archives, there were kids really enjoying themselves and learning about history because it was so interactive. That’s what we want to reproduce here. We’ll teach civics to classes of students visiting the Capitol, but we’ll broadcast it statewide on TVW. We’ll have presentations by historians and authors and that will all be shared in classrooms across the state. This is a resource for the entire state.”

Reed, who co-chaired the state’s sesquicentennial celebration, said as he traveled the state, he was so impressed by the small museums in Omak and Waterville and Sunnyside that were sharing their history — the early trappers and itinerant priests — with their residents. “Then I came back to the Capitol Campus and was embarrassed that we have nothing on our history or culture.”

The Heritage Center will fill that void, create jobs and have no effect on the operating budget. Lawmakers should give the project the green light to proceed.