With its four-year timetable, the much-anticipated Spokane Convention Center expansion and remodel project is more like a marathon than a 100-yard dash.
Still, the Spokane Regional Public Facilities District will be sprinting during the next three months to get over a couple of crucial hurdles that the project faces.
The two large and essential tasks are site selection and completion of legal agreements with the city and Spokane County, says Kevin Twohig, the PFDs executive director. The PFD hopes to select and acquire a site by the end of February and have the agreements completed by the end of this year, Twohig says. Both steps will influence the projects ultimate scope and design.
So far, says PFD board member Shaun Cross, There are obstacles, but its looking really good.
Voters approved in May funding mechanisms for $96 million in projects in Spokane County, including the $76 million expansion of the convention center. On the same ballot, voters agreed to transfer oversight of the convention center from the city of Spokane to the PFD, which operates Spokane Memorial Veterans Arena. Soon after the vote, the PFD commissioned some pre-construction studies.
For some time, proponents of the expansion have talked about two potential sites for the project: one that wraps around the DoubleTree Hotel/Spokane City Center to the east of the current convention facility, and one directly across Spokane Falls Boulevard to the south.
The board isnt favoring one site over another and is studying both sites extensively, says Cross, who also is managing partner of the Spokane law firm of Paine, Hamblen, Coffin, Brooke & Miller LLP.
The Spokane office of GeoEngineers Inc. completed geotechnical studies on both sites earlier this fall. Twohig says the studies reached the same conclusions: Both sites can be built upon, and both have environmental contamination that needs to be cleaned up.
The PFD also hired Jim Kolva & Associates, of Spokane, to conduct a series of studies on each site, including of possible environmental and traffic impacts, and already has begun a series of public hearings that will extend into early 2003.
Also, Cushman & Wakefield, a Boston-based firm chosen by the PFD and the owners of both potential expansion sites to do appraisals, is completing work on the two sites. Cross says the PFD board reviewed some of the firms initial findings late last month and expects to receive further results soon. The appraisal information so far hasnt thrown up any red flags, he says.
Meanwhile, Azteca Restaurant Enterprises Inc., of Burien, Wash., has submitted to the city preliminary plans for a 14-story hotel on part of the east-side site. That envisioned project, however, wouldnt affect the PFDs site-selection processthe site will be selected before Azteca could get construction under way on its projector how much the PFD would pay for the land, Cross says.
The inherent value of the land doesnt change because of an envisioned project, he says.
Its possible that parts of both sites would be selected. For example, convention center space might be built on one site, and a parking structure might be built on part of the other site, he says.
He says the board anticipates being able to work out a purchase agreement with landowners at either site.
If thats not possible, however, the city of Spokane could use its power of condemnation and eminent domain to secure land for the project.
As the study of both sites continues, the PFD is trying to secure separate interlocal legal agreements with both the city and Spokane County.
The agreement with the city would transfer oversight of the convention centeralong with some obligations and some tax revenuesto the PFD, as voters decided last May. The agreement with the county basically would be a contract through which the county would agree to use its bonding authority to raise the money needed for the project, and the PFD would agree to pay off the bonds, using tax revenues and state money.
In September, the PFD submitted drafts of the proposals to the city and county and is awaiting feedback. Ideally, Cross says, both agreements would be approved by the end of the year, although it might take longer than that.
The timing on the county bond sale is important and could affect the amount of money that could be generated for the project, Cross says. Interest rates currently are low, but some analysts believe they will rise early next year. If interest rates increase substantially, Cross says interest payments on the bonds also will rise, which means the PFD would have less money to spend on the project.
Cross says the board hopes that the county will hold the bond sale by early January, even if the interlocal agreements arent completed. Its unclear whether the county would be willing to do that.
Neither the city nor county has provided a formal response on the proposed agreements, but Bill Williams, a PFD board member and chairman of Liberty Lake-based Telect Inc., has had ongoing conversations with city and county leaders on that subject, Cross says.
After the obstacles
Once the site is selected and the bonds are issued, Twohig says design work will get into full swing. Ideally, that will start in February, Twohig says. The PFD has hired Integrus Architecture PS, of Spokane, and LMN Architects, of Seattle, to design the project.
Next March, the PFD expects to begin accepting proposals from construction companies interested in building the project. Twohig says the PFD will look for a company that will serve in a combined general contractor-construction manager role and that will work with the architects and the PFD throughout the design-and-construction process.
The convention center expansion will be built to budget, meaning that the PFD wont approve any cost overruns, Twohig says. Having a single company serve as a general contractor-construction manager will help the PFD build the desired facility without additional costs, he says.
In order to take advantage of a state sales-tax rebate that provides a key piece of the financing for the convention center expansion, the PFD must start construction by Jan. 1, 2004. The PFD hopes that construction will be in full swing by then, but even if it isnt, Twohig says the definition of starting construction is vague and could mean starting site work or minor improvements at the center.
As currently envisioned, he says, the expansion would be constructed first. Operation of the convention center then would be moved into the new space, and the current convention center building would be remodeled. Construction will take just over two years, and the center will continue to host events throughout the construction process.
The expanded facility should be ready to host large conventions by the summer of 2006. Next spring, Twohig says, the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau will begin booking conventions for that time.
Its unclear at this point exactly how much total square footage the convention center will have after its expanded. Twohig says, however, that as envisioned, exhibition space will jump to 100,000 square feet of floor space from 38,000 square feet of space currently. The meeting-room space will increase to 30,000 square feet of space from 6,000 square feet, and the banquet space will be enlarged to 30,000 square feet from 18,000 square feet. Additional lobby, office, and support space also will be created, as well as a large parking garage.
Such an expansion will ensure that the convention center here will remain the second largest in the statebehind Seattles convention centera fact that increases the centers marketability, Twohig says.
As long as we remain in our No. 2 slot, we should remain very successful, he says.
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