Kennewick public agencies struggle to get on same page with Vista Field vision

By Kristi Pihl, March 9, 2015, Tri-City Herald

The Port of Kennewick may not be able to get what port officials and consultants say is a critical connection between Vista Field and the Three Rivers Entertainment District.


They are concerned the Kennewick Public Facilities District won’t fully explore options of better connecting a proposed Three Rivers Convention Center expansion to a redeveloped Vista Field.


Kennewick city officials say plans for both Vista Field redevelopment and the convention center expansion are in early stages, where all options should be considered to determine what will most benefit the Tri-City community.


But the best path forward for this isn’t clear.


Overlapping plans


The port owns Vista Field and is working with the community and consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. on redevelopment plans for the former airport.


The public facilities district is planning to expand the Three Rivers Convention Center, which it owns, and connect it to the city-owned Toyota Center, which it manages for the city. The Kennewick City Council has a say in convention center expansion plans because the public facilities district needs city permission to take on any more debt.


The port had asked the district to consider an alleyway for vehicles and pedestrians between the convention center and Toyota Center. That’s critical because the port hopes to build off current activity at the Toyota Center and convention center by starting redevelopment toward the middle of the former runway, just across across Grandridge Boulevard from the new SpringHill Suites by Marriott.


But the alleyway also is right where the public facilities district hopes to put a building. The district is working on a concept that would add multipurpose and concessions space. The multipurpose exhibit hall also is being considered as a potential performing arts venue.


Port Executive Director Tim Arntzen said the response he’s gotten on the alleyway request has been a loud and clear, “No.” The port doesn’t have the ability to force the connection, he said.


Port officials have been focusing on the road network because they say it is the foundation on which the redevelopment project will be built. The draft Vista Field vision calls for connecting the fragmented street network and breaking it down into smaller, more walkable blocks.


Public facilities district board members are concerned that they are being mistakenly portrayed as uncooperative. Public Facilities District Board member John Givens said he’s tired of hearing the district was blocking the issue when it hadn’t come before the board.


At the same time, the public facilities district backed out of having its architect participate in what was supposed to be a trip with representatives from the port and consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk to travel Florida. They were to tour developments there that included design elements the public asked the port to provide during an interactive planning workshop for Vista Field.


Pedestrian-friendly visions


Barbara Johnson, public facilities district board president, said Rustin Hall of ALSC Architects instead met with district officials to work on designing an entrance from Grandridge Boulevard into the expanded convention center.


Hall is looking at how to create a main entrance that will face Vista Field, said Corey Pearson, executive director of the Three Rivers Campus. That would help turn the entertainment district so its face, rather than its back, abuts Vista Field.


The alleyway requested by the port is not included. Pearson did tell board members they are looking at creating some pedestrian activity through the proposed expansion.


Michael Mehaffy, a project manager with Duany Plater-Zyberk, has suggested creating a connection above or below the convention center and Toyota Center. He’s also suggested making an urban room, where food vendors and seating would coexist with a meandering lane for pedestrians and vehicles. There could be a roof over the concessions area connecting to the convention center expansion and the Toyota Center, or it could remain open.


Vehicle access could be created once the Toyota Center is demolished, public facilities district officials said. Arntzen said it’s also been suggested to the port that vehicle and pedestrian access could be between the Toyota Center and Arena.


He told port commissioners recently he was concerned neither option would create the kind of connection needed for the redevelopment project to succeed.


There is no time line for replacing the aging coliseum. Johnson pointed out the redevelopment of Vista Field could take decades.


Mehaffy said the port and its consultants are suggesting vehicle and pedestrian access where vehicle access could occasionally be closed off for specific events. It appears the public facilities district is considering pedestrian access that would mostly closed off but occasionally open, he said.


Having some vehicle access is important because many pedestrian-only areas become dead zones when there are no events, Mehaffy has said.


Meeting in the middle


Port Commissioner Tom Moak recently suggested having the policy makers meet in public to discuss solutions so planning efforts can move forward. Now, port commissioners are inviting the city council to meet with them to specifically discuss challenges for Vista Field redevelopment.


Kennewick Mayor Steve Young agrees it would be helpful for the city council and port commission to discuss Vista Field. Their partnership will be key in a successful redevelopment project, he said.


It’s going to take some time to get things right and there will be some small bumps along the way, Young said. But ultimately, he thinks they will land on a concept everyone can buy into.


Givens also recently suggested representatives from the public facilities district board, the port commission and city council meet to talk through the challenges. But the full public facilities district board did not support issuing an invitation at this time. Johnson suggested they wait until they had a proposal to show the city, port and others.


“We all want the same result — that’s a successful redevelopment of this area,” Givens said.


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