Aquatic Center Discussions Continue as Stakeholders Focus on the Final Vision
Senator Brad Hawkins met with multiple local government agencies and stakeholders to discuss progress made on his proposed Regional Aquatic Center.
On Oct. 19, Hawkins held the second stakeholder meeting at the Confluence Technology Center.
This project would be built on 283 acres on a site dubbed “Wenatchi Landing,” located near the Odabashian Bridge and Sunset Highway in East Wenatchee.
Those in attendance included the Chelan-Douglas Port Authority, Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz, East Wenatchee Mayor Jerrilea Crawford, Rock Island Mayor Randy Agnew, the Velocity Swimming organization, Chelan-Douglas Transportation Council, Douglas County Sewer District, Douglas County Commissioner Dan Sutton, Douglas PUD, Chelan County Commissioner Bob Bugert and many more.
The purpose of this meeting was to gather more information on the vision on this project and determine whether they will be building a 50-meter Olympic-size pool, or a combined aquatic and recreational sports center.
Hawkins envisioned this project to have a mix of hotels, restaurants and retail space neighboring the center. He also had a preference towards an indoor Olympic-sized pool to host monthly regional swim meets.
“There's two [swim meets] that are held in the City of Wenatchee pool right now, and they draw over 800 youth swimmers and their families for three days,” Hawkins explained. “Our hotels are full during that time frame, so if we were able to host those facilities once a month, including potentially some of the state championships or some of the regional competitions, or maybe even a USA Swimming event that could benefit us tremendously, not to mention the quality of life benefits from children having access to swim lessons and lap swimming in senior water aerobics year round.”
Velocity Swimming President Rachel Madson said if this were to be an Olympic-sized pool, they could partner with USA Swimming, who would help fund a portion of this project.
Hawkins is looking to replace the City of Wenatchee’s pool, which has roughly 10 years left in its lifespan after the city replaces the pool liner and tiles.
Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz also shared that the city has already committed $800k from the general fund towards the city pool repairs, for a total of $2 million.
The city pool should be fixed by August of 2023, giving the stakeholder group nearly 10 years to work on this proposed aquatic center.
A few years ago, Hawkins secured $4 million in state funding for the Douglas County Sewer District to be extended into the Wenatchi Landing area.
Douglas County Sewer Manager Darrell Winans shared that water should not be an issue, with water coming in from the Cascade Corridor. However, the buildout would depend on current water infrastructure, assuming that it would be built downstream.
Shiloh Burgess from Douglas PUD also shared that bringing power into Wenatchi Landing should be no problem.
Chelan-Douglas Transportation Council Executive Director Jeff Wilkens shared a new design for the Wenatchi Landing Access project, a $12 mil. project that would build a roundabout on US 2 and another on Empire Avenue.
This would be $11 million cheaper than the $23 million design they drafted back in 2015, which would include on/off ramps for US 2 and a roundabout on Empire Avenue.
Wilkens said they would need to figure out the transportation aspect before going further into this project, stating that the Department of Transportation most likely won’t fund this project for another decade.
“Right now, there are some federal grants that might be a possibility, and we can come up with 20 percent, but to be perfectly honest, it's not really a fit for the policy objectives for what the Department of Transportation wants to invest in, so I think that will be a challenge,” Wilkens explained.
In regards to Hawkins’ Regional Aquatics Districts draft bill, he said that it would be easier to make smaller adjustments to the current Public Facilities Districts law, rather than drafting a new law altogether.
He also states that stakeholders gear this plan more towards a sports recreation center as a Public Facilities District, adjustments to the current law might be preferred in order for the legislature to accept this plan.
Chelan County already pays 0.1 percent of sales tax towards the Greater Wenatchee Public Facilities District for the Town Toyota Center, already designated as a Regional Aquatic Center for the Chelan-Douglas County region.
Currently, local governments can only legally authorize three local sales taxes to fund Public Facilities Districts (PFDs), but cannot exceed 0.2 percent of the sales tax.
This project would need voter approval to accept a second PFD, and if it were approved, it would be implemented by October 1, 2023.
During their last meeting, the group debated between a 0.1 percent sales tax or 0.2 percent sales tax for voters in Chelan and Douglas counties to consider, however the 0.2 percent tax would be the only financially viable option for the scope of this project.
Washington State Department of Revenue estimated that total sales tax revenues from the 0.2 percent tax would bring in over $10.6 mil. in 2025, before growing up to $12.2 mil. in 2028.
Jim Kuntz said it would be roughly $300k to fund the study, which he would not have the Port pay for. Kuntz also said that an Olympic-sized pool would cost more than a sports complex.
Hawkins also recommended that the Port fund some of this project, while leading this stakeholder group through the winter when he goes back to Olympia for this upcoming legislative session.
“I would kind of encourage the regional Port Authority to think about having some skin in the game too, in terms of the costs, just because you are in the regional economic development business,” Hawkins said. “This is a regional sports plex, potentially, but it's aimed at regional economic development, and you have a history with the Wenatchee landing area. I do see this work as a logical extension of the work that Port has already done.”
Douglas County District 1 Commissioner Dan Sutton said his only issue with this plan was whether this legislative project would interfere with private business operations.
“Chelan has the water slides up there and it's a nice tourist ride, a private business, and the county or any government entity, in my opinion, should never be in competition with private business,” Sutton said. “We should be there to support private business and to encourage economic development and growth, but not competing against it. Philosophically, that's, that's kind of a non starter.”
Jim Kuntz said by the next meeting, the Port Authority should have a clearer scope of the project.
The stakeholders will meet again on Dec. 7.