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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Projects Compete For Tourism Tax Dollars -- Snohomish County Council Gets Final Say

Seattle Times Snohomish County Bureau

When Snohomish County approved a hotel-motel tax increase five years ago to remodel the Everett AquaSox stadium, an informal deal was worked out: The minor-league baseball club would get its money only if an equal share was funneled to South Snohomish County to boost tourism there.

The AquaSox got the stadium renovation. Now four South Snohomish County projects are vying for a cut of the tax, including about $895,000 sitting in the bank and estimated annual revenues of more than $300,000.

Each project is being pitched to a county advisory panel as a means of attracting more tourists. And each has a different vision of what sort of image the county ought to project to lure those visitors.

-- Lynnwood, which generates much of the hotel-tax revenue, wants a convention center.

-- Edmonds hopes to refurbish an auditorium where its symphony performs.

-- Another Edmonds group dreams of building art studios where the public can watch painters and sculptors at work.

-- And an environmental organization wants to put the finishing touches on its "stream-keeper academy."

"There won't be enough money to do all those things," said Barbara Cothern, a Snohomish County councilwoman who chairs the lodging-tax advisory committee, which will recommend how to spend the money. The five-member County Council has the final say.

If Lynnwood gets its way, there may be only enough for the convention center.

The city has asked the county to hold all of the money in reserve for its convention center, which is still in the planning stage. The project also would be funded by city hotel-tax money and a state sales-tax rebate.

Lynnwood Mayor Tina Roberts wouldn't say whether she'd support sharing some of the money with other projects. She said the county needs to determine just how much money is available for tourism promotion.

The County Council five years ago added 2 percent to the lodging tax tacked onto hotel and motel bills. The tax generated more than $900,000 in revenue last year, said Dave Gossett, a county analyst. About a third of that money goes to pay off the AquaSox stadium debt, a third is earmarked for a countywide tourism bureau and the remaining third is the portion dedicated to an as-yet-unidentified project in South Snohomish County.

Lynnwood has an edge

Whatever is decided, it's not likely that Lynnwood will be shut out. The city boasts more than 1,200 hotel and motel rooms clustered within a mile of the proposed convention-center site at 198th Street Southwest and 40th Avenue West. Lynnwood generates about 36 percent of the county's lodging-tax revenues.

Adding to Lynnwood's inside track, the county recently hired Olympia-based consultant Chandler, Brooks and Donohoe to revise its "strategic tourism plan," a process that will greatly influence where county tourism dollars get spent.

Chandler, Brooks and Donohoe is the same firm that proposed Lynnwood's convention center in June.

"We don't feel that there's a conflict of interest. We've already made our recommendation to Lynnwood. That's over and done with, and now it's up to them," said Roger Brooks, co-owner of the firm.

However, Brooks' company is still under contract with Lynnwood to develop a marketing plan for the city, including a city logo that was to be unveiled this week. In total, the firm will be paid an estimated $120,000 by the city for its work.

County officials said Brooks' firm was one of three invited to bid on the tourism project. Two firms submitted bids, with Brooks' coming in lower, county records show.

Edmonds' plea: Share the wealth

Edmonds Mayor Barb Fahey said she hopes the county will spread the wealth.

"I am not opposed to the funding being used now to create a convention center in Lynnwood," Fahey said. "But I'd like to see some of those revenues used for other good, effective projects."

One of the possibilities, she said, is a refurbishing of the Edmonds auditorium where the Cascade Symphony performs. Supporters would like to improve the stage and upgrade the sound system and other equipment in the 900-seat facility at 410 Fourth Ave. N.

The auditorium is owned by Puget Sound Christian College, which can't afford the estimated $4 million or more the project could cost, Fahey said. Edmonds would like the county to contribute $1 million to $2 million.

Waterfront arts center sought

Also seeking a piece of the county money is a nonprofit group that wants to build an interactive arts center on the Edmonds waterfront.

The center would be based on the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Va., where hundreds of artists share cheap studio space in exchange for allowing the public to wander through, watch them work and ask questions. That facility draws 800,000 visitors each year.

Sponsors say a similar facility in Snohomish County would give the region a distinctive flair and attract 250,000 visitors annually. They want the county to contribute half of the estimated $2.5 million construction cost.

"If we just have a convention center and restaurants and parking lots, we're not on the map. This puts us on the map," said Michael Smith, president of Fine Arts Center of Edmonds, the nonprofit group promoting the arts project.

Stream Center has dreams, too

Backers of the Northwest Stream Center - an environmental teaching facility and stream-keeper academy - say their facility also deserves a shot.

The center sits on 20 acres of forested wetlands in McCollum Park near South Everett. A trout stream runs through the parcel. It also includes an unfinished conference center that needs about $300,000 in improvements.

The conference center could host 300-person environmental conferences if it is completed, said Tom Murdoch, director of the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, a nonprofit group that operates the facility. He said the center could be running in six months if it gets the money.

"This is an opportunity for those funds to be put to an immediate use," Murdoch said. "We're asking for a little jump-start."

Jim Brunner 425-745-7808 or e-mail jbrunner@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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