A marquee is coming soon to the ShoWare Center in Kent.
The Kent City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday night to spend $225,000 from the city’s lodging tax reserve fund to pay for the 30-foot-high sign. It’s expected to be operating by year’s end. The marquee will help promote Seattle Thunderbirds hockey games and other events.
The sign will go on the west side of the city-owned arena near the flag poles, and is expected to feature a video-message screen about 9 feet high by 17 feet wide.
Councilman Les Thomas chairs the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee that also includes three community members and three hotel industry representatives. The committee unanimously recommended that the Council use the reserve fund to pay for the marquee.
“The two things we hear when we are out and about are why is the parking garage not finished and why is there no signage for the ShoWare,” Thomas said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’re excited about it and the community has been wanting it. We couldn’t afford it initially.”
The State Legislature in 1997 approved a lodging tax that directs 1 percent of city taxes collected on hotel room sales be used to promote tourism.
That tax brings in an estimated $150,000 per year to the city, said Ben Wolters, city economic and community development director.
“The tax was established by the state to allow local jurisdictions to collect funds to promote tourism in their communities,” Wolters said.
Wolters said the city spends about $120,000 per year from the lodging tax fund as a member of Seattle Southside, which promotes tourism for the cities of Kent, Tukwila, SeaTac and Des Moines. Kent spends $18,500 each year from the tax to help the Kent Chamber of Commerce promote tourism.
The lodging tax reserve fund had grown over the years to $225,000. The committee recommended and the Council agreed to spend the entire reserve fund for the ShoWare marquee.
“There has been a long standing interest in the community wanting a marquee to highlight what’s going on,” Wolters said. “About 26,000 drivers per day go by the ShoWare on James Street. This gives a little boost to advertising events.”
ShoWare General Manager Tim Higgins looks forward to getting the sign.
“It will be a tremendous addition to the facility,” Higgins said.
Higgins said the exact design of the structure has yet to be determined. The plan is to have a single pole to support the message board.
SMG, the operators of the arena, plans to put the project out to bid in the next couple of weeks. City and SMG officials expect the $225,000 will get the type of sign they want.
“We’re confident based on our preliminary research that the funding is a good number,” Higgins said.
Initial plans for construction of the ShoWare Center included a marquee, but city officials dropped the sign because of rising costs of the facility. The city opened the $84.5 million in January 2009.
“We built the ShoWare at the height of the construction boom and were facing escalating costs,” Wolters said. “To help stay within budget, we had to make decisions about what we could do later and what was not essential to the operation of the building.”
Wolters does not anticipate much negative reaction from residents about the city spending $225,000 on an arena sign during a bad economy and city budget cutbacks.
“It’s important to keep in mind that state law requires the lodging tax be used for tourism promotion,” Wolters said. “The ShoWare is a regional tourism draw and draws visitors from outside the region who generate hotel stays. It’s a tax not paid by the general taxpayer but by overnight visitors, so there is no impact to the city general fund.”
Thomas said he wished the sign could be large enough to be seen from Highway 167.
“But that would cost over $1 million,” Thomas said.
Thomas expects few if any residents to be upset about the city spending money for a marquee.
“If there is, there will be plenty of people who will say ‘we’ve got it finally,’” Thomas said. “The reserve fund was not going anywhere and was not being used. I’m excited about it.”
Wolters expects the sign to increase ticket sales.
“It is something that will help,” Wolters said. “It is a way to communicate to the community what’s going on such as if there is a hockey game Friday night. I’m not sure how many more tickets it will sell but it will help with walkup traffic for tickets.”