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OLYMPIA, WA-The Wilsonville, Ore.-based VIP International Corp. has cleared the next hurdle on its way to developing a Downtown conference center.

The City Council voted this week to enter into exclusive negotiations regarding VIP’s proposal for constructing a 30,000-sf conference center next to the Phoenix Inn Suites, located 415 N. Capitol Way. VIP’s would buy the 1.38-acre lot north of the hotel. Plans also call for an additional 50 to 100 rooms at the Phoenix Inn.

Funding for construction of the conference center would be covered by a sales tax rebate from the state for new public facilities. To meet the deadline to take advantage of the offer, construction must commence before Jan. 2004.

The city’s sales tax rebate, .0033% of what it turns over to the state, would cover debt service on a $6-million facility. However, if the city can enroll the adjacent cities of Lacey and Tumwater and Thurston County, the rebate would support a $12-million project, though Lacey would want some of that for a 110-acre sports complex it is proposing.

Should negotiations with VIP fail, second in line is a $110 million proposal submitted by Opus Northwest of Bellevue, Wash., which would include a conference center as well as a 12-screen cinema, ice arena and a mix of housing, retail and office space.

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