Spokane Journal of Business

Big Spokane Convention Center addition draws flurry of inquiries

Convention center addition expected to attract at least six design-build candidates

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Big Spokane Convention Center addition draws flurry of inquiries
-%u2014Image provided by LMN ALSC
The convention center expansion, as shown here, would fill in much of the space toward the riverbank.

The Spokane Public Facilities District has seen a flurry of early interest in its planned $60 million-plus convention center expansion and expects to whittle down a short list of design-build candidates early next month, says Kevin Twohig, executive director of the PFD.

Twohig says about 100 companies have requested information regarding the district's call for qualifications for the project, and he expects to receive statements of qualifications from at least six design-build teams, by the Friday, Dec. 21, deadline.

The main portion of the project will be a two-floor, 91,000-square-foot addition to the Group Health Exhibition Hall on the east side of the convention center campus. The addition, which will be attached to the north side of the exhibition hall, will include about 25,000 square feet of meeting space and 18,000 square feet of exhibition space.

The 10,000-square-foot former C.I. Shenanigans restaurant building will be demolished to make room for the project.

The PFD bought that building for $4.5 million in 2010, and the restaurant closed in October.

Twohig says the project has drawn more interest from prospective designers and builders than the $76 million convention center and expansion projects completed in 2006 and 2007, which included the 100,000-square-foot, boat-shaped exhibition hall.

"I think there's quite a bit more interest this time around," Twohig says. "It's a completely different economy."

At the time of the earlier project, the construction industry was climbing toward its last peak. Since the industry plunged into the abyss of the recession, construction companies have been competing for fewer jobs.

Twohig says, though, that the PFD hadn't received any formal responses a week before the deadline.

"I expect they will all come in at the deadline," he says.

The district's evaluation committee will recommend three finalists to the PFD board on Jan. 8, Twohig says. The finalists will be asked to submit more detailed proposals by April 10.

"We hope to complete the selection process by April 23," he says.

The district anticipates negotiating a single contract for design and construction and has asked for teams to submit proposals using the design-build concept, Twohig says. In design-build, a team, which typically includes an architectural firm and a construction company, works together to design and build the project, as opposed to the conventional method in which a project owner would hire an architect to design the project and a contractor to build it.

The design-build method encourages more collaboration, potentially accelerating construction and reducing costs, compared with projects under separate design and construction contracts.

The PFD hopes to issue a notice to proceed with the project in early May, Twohig says, adding that he expects construction will be under way by late summer. The project tentatively is scheduled to be completed by January 2015.

The PFD calls the planned project the "Convention Center Completion," because it will fulfill the concept for the convention center expansion envisioned in 2000, and later scaled back to fit within the scope of the original funding measure.

Hoffman-Bouten, a joint venture between Hoffman Construction Co., of Portland, and Bouten Construction Co., of Spokane, was the general construction manager on the earlier project.

Spokane County voters approved in 2002 a funding measure for the initial convention center expansion and other projects.

The funding mechanism involves sales of bonds that are repaid through a temporary increase in lodging and sales tax.

Last April, voters approved a 10-year extension of the lodging and sales tax allocations to 2043 to finance the completion of the convention center and other projects.

LMN Architects, of Seattle, working with ALSC Architects PS, of Spokane, and other design and engineering firms worked on the conceptual design for the completion project.

The district recently has received initial bond funds of $15 million toward the completion project, says Mick McDowell, chairman of the PFD board.

The PFD will require that the convention center remain open and functional during construction as portions of the facility are expected to be in use during the construction phase of the project, and the adjacent DoubleTree hotel is expected to be in full operation throughout the project.

"We're serious about not going dark for an extended period of time," McDowell says, adding that some events already have been scheduled during the anticipated construction period.

"We'll give a schedule to builders to cooperate and work with to minimize disruptions," he says. "Most of the work can be done without interfering with either the exhibit hall or the west campus of the convention center."

The district operates other convention facilities and the INB Performing Arts Center, west of the exhibition hall, and Spokane Veteran's Memorial Arena, north of downtown.

Public access to the Centennial Trail and the Spokane River also will be maintained during the project, McDowell says, and a component of the project is planned to improve the trail and river access within the project site.

An economic impact report prepared by Eastern Washington University for the 12-month period ending in January 2010 concluded that the district's events generated $173 million, resulting in 2,300 jobs.

McDowell says the district is meeting revenue projections and has been profitable for the last six years.

The convention center completion project will be separate from, but complementary to an envisioned "south block" project in which Spokane developers Walt and Karen Worthy propose to develop a $50 million, 700-room convention center headquarters hotel and parking garage, he says.

The Worthys have signed a letter of intent to develop the hotel on land the PFD currently owns across Spokane Falls Boulevard from the convention center and bounded by Main, Washington, and Bernard streets.

McDowell declines to comment on that project while the Worthys are going through their due diligence evaluation process, and Worthy couldn't be reached recently for comment on the status of the hotel project.

Mike McLean
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Reporter Mike McLean covers real estate and construction at the Journal of Business. A multipurpose fisherman and vintage record album aficionado, Mike has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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