Friday, June 16, 2017

Does Thurston County need a convention district? And why like this?

It feels like we just had this talk. But it was actually ten years ago.


Despite being mentioned by probably nearly no one (or at least not anyone I remember hearing) during last year's campaign, the Thurston County commission has started the slow process of building a convention center.

The weirdest part of the proposal to start a process that might lead to a convention center is that they're choosing to use an archaic mechanism.

Instead of using the Public Facilities District route (of which we already have one), the commissioners are proposing to to a Cultural Arts, Stadium and Convention District. While the law creating public facility districts was passed in 1988 (and expanded to cities in 1999), convention districts were created in 1982 and never seemed to get off the ground.

The primary difference between the older convention district and the newer public facility districts is that the convention districts were much more democratic, and therefore, much easier to oppose funding. Convention districts require a series of elections before they can break down, while public facility districts are created by a combination of willing city and county legislative boards.

While the public can engage with those elected boards, it isn't like they have a direct say in an election.

Today, there are at least 25 operating public facility districts operating across Washington State and not a single convention districts. In fact, in the late 80s Snohomish County struggled for years to use a convention district to build a convention center in Lynnwood. Finally in the late 90s, as city-based PFDs were coming on line, the Lynnwood convention district made one last try and failed.

From the Seattle Times in 1998:
For the third time since 1986, voters this week squelched a district proposal to build some combination of a performing-arts theater and convention hall. But this defeat was the most crushing, with 75 percent of nearly 79,500 voters saying "no." 
The leading theory behind the loss: Voters didn't want property taxes to pay for a project that would benefit private businesses - especially Lynnwood hotels, restaurants and pubs. One study found the project would directly pump $9.1 million per year into the local economy; with indirect benefits, that figure would jump to $16.2 million. 
The next year, the legislature gave Snohomish County the ability to quickly kill their failed convention district, but also the tools to start up a more nimble and less democratic public facilities district.

Using the public facility district model that doesn't actually have to go to the voters for funding, Lynnwood was later able to build their convention center.

From the Seattle Times in 2005:
The $34 million Lynnwood Convention Center opened May 1 with lofty expectations of drawing thousands of people to the city's restaurants, hotels and shops. 
The convention center's success was immediate. Gross revenue through November was $650,000, 15 percent more than anticipated. In its first seven months, the center hosted 208 events, said Grant Dull, the executive director of the Lynnwood Public Facilities District. 
It's not yet known how much of that success has trickled down to the city and local businesses, but they are expected to reap $13 million in annual economic benefits by the center's third year.
So, why is Thurston County choosing a less likely to succeed method to build a public facility?

One reason is obvious, we already have an operating public facilities district in Thurston County. It is run by the three cities and Thurston County and funds, at least in part, the Hands on Children's Museum and the Regional Athletic Center. With that route taken up, the only taxing district option to build a convention center is the old convention district.

Which also sort of begs the question, when the local Public Facilities District started up, why didn't they build a convention center? Turns out it was a pretty unpopular idea. Even in the less democratic process, people in Olympia engaged and turned out to vote for candidates that did not support spending public money on a convention center downtown.

Makes you think it would be hard for something like that to actually survive a public vote.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Property is in fact more valuable in Lacey. Go figure.



Ken has a very Ken-esque post about how he's totally okay with moving the county courthouse, but on as long as it lands in Lacey. Or, in fact, move the entire county seat.

Olympia is old hat at retaining titles like county seat, or say, state capital, so I'm not worried.

But, also with his post, he makes this bold statement: "Land is cheaper in Lacey." Well, okay then, I can take a look at that.

First, let's think about why he might say that. Sure, Olympia is a much older city with nice(r) neighborhoods and some pretty great shoreline properties. But, when you get up into the Hawks Prairie north end of things for Lacey, the neighborhoods tend to get much nicer and much newer.

So, maybe its a bit of Lacey "aw-shucks, look at us, we're so cheap?"

I don't know, but either way, the numbers don't seem to stand up his point. First, looking at recent home sales from Trulia data, there isn't a very big difference between sales of house in Olympia and in Lacey.

Even when I clear away all the other data in the original Trulia map, the main three zip codes in central Thurston County are pretty much the same. Maybe Olympia is a bit higher, but since 98501 isn't just Olympia, it's hard to tell.

Also, this is home sales, which may not be a good guide for the type of land that a courthouse could be built on.

So, I tried to find a way to figure out total land value of each city. Good thing we have a county official whose job that is.

Before you give me the lecture about "assessed value not being actual market value," find a way to figure out an actual market value city-wide. Also, even if assessed =/= actual, it is still likely a good estimate when you're comparing values between two cities.

So, here you go:


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Assessed valueAcreageAssessed value per acre
Lacey4,919,604,01910,570465,430.84
Olympia5,785,389,44812,590459,522.59

Olympia as a city is more valuable, but only because it is larger. When you get down the actual value of the land by acres, Lacey is slightly more valuable. And, on a city-wide basis, who knows why? I don't.

Maybe property with newer buildings are more valuable?