Richland will have a new outdoor stage by next spring.

Representatives from the city of Richland, Washington State University and the Columbia Center Rotary Club recently broke ground on the project.

The new stage, which is called the Columbia Center Rotary Stage, will be on the lawn next to the university's East Building by the Columbia River.

Construction is to begin "pretty quickly," said Vicky Carwein, WSU Tri-Cities chancellor. The 30-by-40-foot stage is expected to be completed after the fall term but certainly will be finished in time for the outdoor season next spring, she said.

The stage will be covered by a curved, 14-foot-tall roof; its sides will be open.

Details about rental fees and reservation procedures have yet to be worked out, WSU officials said. But the stage will be available for use by all Tri-Citians, not just WSU students, which is why the city and the Rotarians got involved.

WSU approached the Rotary Club in early 2010 with the proposal for the stage and a request to chip in money for it, said Michael Rader, chairman of the Rotary Club charity board.

Rotarians for about eight years have put money into the charity to eventually fund a local project that would have a lasting effect on the community and that could be shared by all, Rader said.

This project fulfilled all requirements. It is the first to receive money from the charity, which issued an $80,000 two-to-one challenge grant, meaning another $40,000 would have to be raised elsewhere.

Richland stepped up to the challenge through its lodging tax commission, said Richland Mayor John Fox. The commission is made up of representatives of the hotel and restaurant industries, who decide how to spend that particular tax revenue.

They decided to give $40,000 to the project. That money does not come from the city's general fund and is not controlled by the city council, Fox said.

The commission typically spends hotel/motel tax money on projects that increase the likelihood of visitors coming to Richland. This stage is expected to draw visitors, in part because friends and family of students may come to events held on it.

The students had asked for a space to hold concerts and other events, and they also paid a share.

The Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities contributed $20,000 to the project, said Amber Eubanks, the group's president. The money comes from fees paid by the students along with tuition. Those fees also will contribute to a planned veterans memorial at WSU.

Students are excited to have graduation ceremonies on campus, Eubanks said.

The need for entertainment on campus has increased since WSU expanded to a full four-year campus in 2007, Carwein said. That move drove up the traditional student population. These are younger students who come to campus looking for the whole college experience, as opposed to working adults taking classes in the evening, Carwein said.

"Now they're here all day, and they haven't had an outdoor facility," she said.


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